Abraham Benjamin de Villiers delivered his latest ‘running out of words to describe’ like special to help the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) romp home with two balls to spare against the Rajasthan Royals (RR) in the first of the two 2020 IPL matches scheduled today.
Opting to bat first, RR finally got off to a good start thanks to an electrifying cameo from a rejuvenated Robin Uthappa, promoted to the batting position where he has performed his best over the years. Ben Stokes, who resorted to playing second fiddle as he has so far this year for the Royals, was unable to break free and looked uncomfortable during his time in the middle, but he did provide good support to his new opening partner. Stokes was ultimately dismissed two balls before the end of the powerplay, outfoxed by a slower delivery from Chris Morris and caught by de Villiers.
The RCB spinners, Chahal, debutant Shahbaz Ahmed, and Washington Sundar then began applying the squeeze over the Royals’ batsmen, which began with Chahal claiming both Uthappa and Samson in his first over after being hit for a six by the latter off his first ball today. As a result, Steven Smith and Jos Buttler, two batsmen reputed as quick run-scorers, found the going tough in the middle-overs. Although Buttler failed to bat till the end, dismissed after an uncharacteristic 25-ball 24 in the 16th, Steven Smith finally seemed to have found his long-lost touch going into the latter stages of the innings.
Having played a boundary-less first 15 balls, Smith began his death overs onslaught with a couple of hits to the fence off Udana, following that up with a glorious flick of the wrists off Chris Morris, RCB’s stand-out pacer in the last few matches, that saw the ball sail miles back into the stands at deep square leg. Navdeep Saini bowled an economical 17th over that saw only 6 runs being given away, but then the next two overs went for 34 and saw Smith bring up a much-needed half-century. He could have got a lot more from the last over, but a stupendous catch from Shahbaz Ahmed close to the cover boundary, with the sun gleaming in front of him, meant that RR could only manage off the last over from Morris and finish on 177.
It was Aaron Finch who began the attack for RCB with a couple of sixes in the third over from RR’s strike bowler, Jofra Archer. Finch’s ambitious stay in the middle was then cut short two balls later, as he top-edged Shreyas Gopal and was held on by Robin Uthappa. After Finch’s dismissal, Padikkal momentarily took over the mantle of being the aggressor for the rest of the powerplay as Virat Kohli settled in in his usual fashion of stealing ones and twos. Once the powerplay ended, the RR bowlers kept the duo quiet with some really tight lines from the spinners, which meant that the workload for Padikkal today was slightly more than usual; he had to run between the wickets for a large part of the innings with Kohli.
Tewatia, despite bowling three back-to-back wide deliveries at one stage of his spell and conceding a monstrous six to Kohli, ended up breaking the partnership with the wicket of a visibly tired Padikkal off the last ball of his spell. RCB then suffered a bigger blow next ball when Kartik Tyagi took probably the biggest wicket in his brief career so far, that of Virat Kohli, although Tewatia, the catcher on this occasion, was the one who deserved more credit for it for a splendid effort on the boundary. Tyagi went for only two runs in that over against new batsmen AB de Villiers and Gurkeerat Mann, and the following overs from Gopal and Archer fetched 10 each for RCB.
De Villiers brought down the equation to 35 off the last two overs with Gurkeerat struggling to get bat on ball at the other end. The penultimate over from Unadkat saw de Villiers unleash himself to his fullest; Unadkat refrained and failed to land the yorker thrice in the first half of the over and was smashed into the stands each time by the South African. Gurkeerat made contact off the penultimate delivery of the over and found the fence, and then retained strike for the last over with 10 more required. With three deliveries left and 5 runs being taken in ones and twos, de Villiers emphatically brought two points for his side with a hit over the mid-wicket boundary off a full-length delivery on leg-stump.
RR v RCB: Major Talking Points from the game
RR unleash ‘opener’ Robin Uthappa
Robin Uthappa’s most successful IPL campaign in his 12-year career was back in 2014, in which he topped the run-scoring charts with 660 to his name at an average of 44 with five half-centuries. Having batted down the order initially that season and producing moderate results, Uthappa hit a rich vein of form once he was promoted to open the batting and make the most out of the first six overs, which immensely helped KKR in lifting the trophy that year. With KKR favouring the duo of Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn due to the explosive starts they provided, Uthappa gradually fell out of favour for the opening slot.
To be honest, barring a few occasions, he has never quite looked at his best while batting in the middle stages of a T20, something that the Royals team management understood 8 games into this year’s campaign. Uthappa started off so well in the powerplay today that Ben Stokes had to settle for the role of enforcer once again, something he hasn’t been comfortable with. Uthappa’s blazing cameo at the start meant that despite the economical middle-overs, the duo of Steven Smith and Jos Buttler did not require forcing the scoring rate, which helped Smith settle in, accelerate at the death, and get RR to a competitive total of 177.
RCB bowling unit coming together
We have seen RCB relying heavily on Yuzvendra Chahal for breakthroughs on quite a few occasions over the years. They have been guilty of conceding too many runs at the death as well. But today, it seemed like the RCB attack came together as a bowling unit, helping each other out despite going for runs in the powerplay. The spin trio of Chahal, Washington Sundar and debutant Shahbaz Ahmed, who would have been planning and managing constructions currently had he not been brought to the Kolkata Club Cricket circle a few years ago, kept the duo of Smith and Buttler down to runs between the wickets for the best part of the middle-overs, assisted by an over from Saini. The pressure was too much for Buttler to take, and he was dismissed with 4 and a half overs to the innings.
Even after expensive overs from Chahal and Udana, Chris Morris, who was injured for the best part of the first half of the campaign, bowled a mind-boggling last over which consisted of only 4 runs and the wickets of Smith and Archer. Morris returned with figures of 4/26, and if we take a look at his performance in the matches so far, it can be said that he had provided RCB the death bowling option that they have desired for over the years.
Steven Smith’s return to form with the bat
There were talks of Steven Smith handing over the reins of captaincy to Jos Buttler to focus more on his batting, having gone through a string of low scores mainly due to ungainly shots at wrong stages. However, the knock he played today truly resembled the class that he has possessed over the years. There were no rash shots from the Australian even when the run rate was being held down by the RCB bowlers in the middle-overs. Smith assessed the conditions properly, adjusted to the nature of the wicket, and went on the attack in the final few overs, which helped his side get to a fighting total. He would have got more in the last over, had it not been for that stunning effort from Shahbaz at deep cover.
Smith handing the ball to Unadkat in the penultimate over
While Smith shone with the bat today, his captaincy, especially at the latter stages of the game, turned out to be a massive let-down. Instead of handing the penultimate over to his strike bowler, Jofra Archer, to close the game out with 35 runs to defend, he chose to toss the ball to Jaydev Unadkat, who had the job of bowling to an in-form AB de Villiers. Unadkat looked like a Cricketer who had no confidence in his abilities in the first half of the over, landing everything in AB de Villiers’ arc and being smashed out of the park on all three occasions. Unadkat’s 25-run over meant that Archer was then left with 10 to defend off the final over, which was always going to be a tough ask. He did well to concede only half of them in the first three, but he ended up conceding the other half next ball itself with a leg-stump half-volley to de Villiers.