RCB enjoy a rare bowlers’ night

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RCB successfully defended 161 to keep their IPL 2019 campaign alive. © AFP

Virat Kohli cut a forlorn figure at long on, perhaps waiting for the inevitable to take over – the event of conceding points from a winning position because one of his bowlers lacked nerves of steel under pressure.

When MS Dhoni cleared the ground with a deflating 111-metre long six, he sliced the equation from 26 off 6 to 16 off 4. A familiar air of anxiety hung heavy over the Chinnaswamy stadium as shouts of Dhoni and CSK lulled the RCB faithful into silence. 6,2,6 followed off the next three balls, and a despondent-looking Kohli could only shake his head and maybe feel the stinging deja vu that’s been RCB’s season. And their fate against CSK over the last five years.

But something different ensued.

Considering the season RCB bowlers were having, Dale Steyn was expected to be nothing short of a miracle worker when he was recruited as a replacement for Nathan Coulter-Nile. He had the advantage of not carrying any kind of baggage that the rest of the wounded attack was lugging around in a season where they’ve repeatedly cracked under pressure. That came in handy on a night when RCB were once again guilty of posting a total that was at least 15-20 runs short of being competitive on the spungy Bangalore strip.

An away swinger to get Shane Watson nicking to first slip, and an unplayable, inswinging yorker with an elaborate set up to Suresh Raina, crippled CSK in the first over of their chase, and laid out the ground work for RCB’s excellence over the next 30-odd minutes.

There was a risk of Steyn’s fellow-pacers erring in their overzealous attempts to snare more wickets early on. But Navdeep Saini stuck to the one bowling trait that has impressed his skipper and kept him in the side in nine of the 10 games this season – of beating batsmen with pace off hard lengths. And Umesh Yadav reverted to his effective 2018 self – which brought two more wickets in the PowerPlay.

RCB kept laying out roadblocks for CSK, even after the first six overs. It was that sort of a game where all of Kohli’s moves as a fielding captain clicked into sync. With the top-order wiped out and CSK in need of a careful rebuild, Kohli deferred the introduction of Yuzvendra Chahal by a couple of overs, and then bowled him out at a stretch between the 10th and the 16th. Even as Chahal continued to be at his influential best with a spell of 1 for 24, RCB needed a strong supporting cast around him through the crucial middle-overs.

Pawan Negi bowled just one over – for seven runs – while Kohli reserved bigger responsibilities for Marcus Stoinis, who was fresh from his match-turning dot balls to Andre Russell three days go.

Thirteen of the 18 deliveries the Aussie bowled were to MS Dhoni, and eight of them dot balls as his predominantly back-of-a-length bowling proved hard to put away. A tidy spell of 0 for 20 kept the scales tipped in RCB’s favour, but Chinnaswamy’s batsmen-friendly dimensions and the home side’s abysmal abilities at the death meant the night was still young and nervy, as far as the RCB camp was concerned.

Saini returned to more applause from Kohli, as he cramped Jadeja for room, hurried Dhoni for pace, and ran the former out in an eight-run over to strengthen RCB’s firm grip on the game.

But there was more drama in his fourth, after Steyn conceded a bit of ground in his 13-run final over that brought up Dhoni’s half-century. By this stage, the CSK skipper had successfully slipped into ‘his zone’ of being cold and calculative in his methods to beat the bowler in a one-on-one pyschological battle.

He denied singles to Dwayne Bravo off the first two balls, but hit the third – a foot fault – for a six, to leave RCB in a familiarly dire situation of seeing another game slip by from between their fingers.

Saini, though, didn’t let go. He bounced back from the error, bowled another dot to Dhoni and ended the over with Bravo’s dismissal, which left Umesh to defend 26 off the last six deliveries.

Umesh rose above the rubble that Dhoni created in the first five balls, and challenged the CSK captain with a brave leg-cutter outside the off-stump. Dhoni’s outstretched bat didn’t connect with the slower delivery, and a vigilant Parthiv Patel broke the stumps before Shardul Thakur could make his ground to force a Super Over.

“It was the last thing I was expecting, and credit to Umesh as well, coming back off the last ball, these are the things that matter, you know? Having been smoked for five balls, he comes back and he beats MS [Dhoni], who was striking it so well, so these are the things you can take a lot of heart from, because in T20 cricket you are going to be put under the pump, it’s how quickly you bounce back that matters, and tonight was an example of that,” Kohli said in the post-match presentation.

In a refreshing change for RCB, Kohli’s myriad moods in a cliffhanger culminated in ones where a vein-popping celebration and an ear-to-ear smile conveyed joy and relief in equal proportion.

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