The atmosphere was electric at the M. Chinaswamy stadium in Bangalore and why not? It was the first qualifier of IPL 9 and the home team was playing. Royal Challengers of Bangalore were taking on the table toppers Gujarat Lions. With the dynamics of this stadium and the batting lineup of both the teams, it was expected to be a run fest but the Bangalore pitch bluffed one and all. The usually hard, true and a good batting pitch was dry and two paced from the very beginning of the match.
RCB won the toss and as the custom has gone this season, elected to bowl first.
With Brendon Mccullum and Aaron Finch opening the innings for the Lions, the crowd was anticipating fireworks. A quite first over from S. Arvind paved the way for Iqbal Abdulla to bowl his left arm spin from the other end and it started.
McCullum danced down the wicket to hit Abdulla’s 1st delivery straight to AB Devilliers at long off and Finch perished a couple of balls later to jolt the Gujarat Lions to 6 for 2 in the 2nd over. It was now all up on Skipper Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik to rebuild the innings from scratch. Raina scored a scratchy single off the first 8 balls he faced and hit his 9th ball straight into the hands of short fine leg off the bowling of Shane Watson to leave the Lions in shambles at 9 for 3 in the 4th over.
It was looking all over for Gujarat pretty early when the burly Dwayne Smith entered the ground and started changing the match every passing ball.
Smith was at his usual aggressive best as he started hitting boundaries and sixes at will to give the scoreboard some wheels again. Karthik at the other end was rotating the strike and supporting Smith perfectly. The two put on 85 runs for the 4th wicket in just 10 overs before Karthik decided to be too cheeky to see his stumps castled by Jordan. Smith kept hammering the RCB bowlers before going out for 73 runs from 41 balls with 6 huge maximums. Late cameos from Dwivedi and Kulkarni with 19 runs off 9 balls and 10 runs off 4 balls respectively, helped the Gujarat Lions put up a respectable 158 on the board in their 20 overs.
A target of 159 is not a big one by any stretch of imagination at Bangalore where the par score is 180, but this was not the typical Bangalore pitch either.
Lions came out believing and almost pulled off the impossible. RCB innings was almost a carbon copy of the Lions innings with early wickets falling for nothing and then a late partnership with one man scoring fast and big. A rare commodity now a days, a failure for Virat Kohli became the bitter truth for the RCB team and fans today as Dhawal Kulkarni shattered Kohli’s stumps off his first delivery with Kohli scoring a duck.
Getting Virat early was half the battle won for Gujarat and they continued the same way. Kulkarni returned in his next over to pocket Gayle and Rahul off consecutive deliveries to peg RCB back at 25 for 3 in 4 overs. It looked like they had damaged enough but they did not stop. Jadeja bowling the 5th over of the innings got Watson for 1 and Kulkarni again rained havoc with his 3rd over by dismissing Sachin Baby for a nought. RCB batting was completely shattered at 29 for 5 in the 6th over.
AB Devilliers was standing tall amidst the ruins and he got some support from Stuart Binny who scored 21 and then Iqbal Abdulla, who stood there fighting till the end to change the course of the match. If RCB was to make a match of it, it had to be a ABD special innings and for sure it was.
ABD turned the tables on the Lions in quick time with some cheeky boundaries and a few lusty blows.
He was in full flow as he bamboozled the Gujarat bowlers into submission. Devilliers scored a magical, match winning 79 not out from just 47 balls while Abdulla ably supporting him with 33 not out from 25 balls to seal the match with an unbeaten 91 run partnership. ABD’s batting was a true master class and a sight to savor.
RCB are into the finals now. This is their 3rd final in 9 years of IPL and they are looking good.
They have had a perfect match to go into the finals. They had come crushing every team through their top order batting, especially Kohli but after this match they have gained a fighting lower middle order in a tough and close game which will surely boost them in the finale.
Lions had finished at the top of the table, hence they get another shot at the title in the 2nd qualifier. After this performance, they certainly have some loose ends to tighten. They have a couple of days to regroup, rethink and refresh to come out strong for that final push.