Batting on 85 at the end of the penultimate over of the first innings, Virat Kohli dropped his bat and fell on his knees. Cramps were getting the better of him. Lokesh Rahul ran from the other end, and so did the Royal Challengers Bangalore physios to attend to their captain. After brief treatment between the overs, Kohli got back to his feet and stood in painless readiness for Dwayne Bravo to deliver the last six balls of the innings.
Three balls down – one run to Kohli’s credit and two to the team, Kohli deposited the fourth into the stands. The shot was good enough for a jampacked crowd at the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium in Rajkot to give up its loyalties with the home side temporarily and cheer Kohli on. He didn’t disappoint and hammered Dwayne Bravo’s full toss for a boundary straight down the ground and followed it up with a slice over backward point for another four to bring up his first T20 century.
Perhaps, this was not as glamourous as some of his other knocks in limited-overs cricket, but this was played in sapping heat and wincing pain. Time and again, the physios had to rush to the field to check on Kohli. In fact, for most parts of the innings, he even avoided taking the quick twos that he normally does take. But when he did go for it, often challenging the arm of Ravindra Jadeja who was stationed at deep mid wicket in the last five overs, he won with ease.
It was a knock that would easily sit as one of the best witnessed in recent times, but sadly for Virat Kohli, it came in defeat as Gujarat Lions chased down the 180/2 set by Royal Challengers Bangalore to win by six wickets on Sunday (April 24) at Rajkot.
The decision to bat after winning the toss by Kohli was largely decided by the heat factor. He wanted to shield his fielders and bowlers, but it was a decision which eventually backfired on him.
Both teams had initially made two changes to their sides. While the hosts included Dwayne Smith and Shadab Jakati in place of Dale Steyn and Akshdeep Nath, Royal Challangers Bangalore decided to bring in Kedar Jadhav and Yuzvendra Chahal for KL Rahul and Harshal Patel.
But as luck would have it for Rahul, he got a last-minute visa into the side after Mandeep got injured while practising just before the start of the match. His innings was overshadowed by the more superlative one by his captain, but it wasn’t one devoid of superb batting. In fact, it was a story of two innings in one – one that was played before a pep talk with Kohli and one after that.
Rahul had managed to score at only run-a-ball off the first 26 deliveries. After three ugly efforts to hit Dhawal Kulkarni out of the park, all ending up as dot deliveries in the 16th over, Kohli went up to him and had a word. The result of it was significantly visible. He slammed two sixes and two boundaries off the next four balls. At the end of the innings, Rahul had an unbeaten 35-ball 51 runs and a maiden IPL half-century to his credit. For someone who almost missed out on playing the match, that should’ve been a fairly pleasant takeaway.
Things had turned interesting right at the start of the match, with both teams coming up with new strategies to outwit each other.
After four matches, Shane Watson eventually got to bat at his favourite position – as an opener. The move didn’t work the way he would’ve liked it to as he ended up skiing an off-cutter to Ravindra Jadeja. A huge round of cheer for de Villiers’ arrival to the crease almost overshadowed the celebration of Watson’s dismissal.
The plan was clear from the outset for Gujarat Lions. They needed early wickets, especially that of the in-form duo of Kohli and de Villiers. The trap was set, with no fielders outside the ring on the off-side, apart from Dwayne Bravo at long off, urging the batsmen to hit over the in-field off Pravin Tambe and Shadab Jakati.
The in-field off-side cordon was of the highest standard with Ravindra Jadeja at backward point, Aaron Finch at covers and Suresh Raina at extra cover manning it. Yet, nothing ruffled Kohli from taking them on. Instead of going over the top, he pierced the gaps with surgical precision time and again in the Powerplay. De Villiers, on the other hand, fell for the bait as his attempted to clear it, which resulted in him offering a simple catch to Raina.
That turned out to the the last of the celebrations for the hosts while fielding as Kohli and Rahul put on an unbeaten stand of 121 runs for the third wicket to take Royal Challengers Bangalore to 180 for 2.
Opening with Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith, Gujarat Lions got off to a slow start, with the duo failing to power Yuzvendra Chahal’s deliveries outside the inner circle.
However, with Kane Richardson coming in from the other end, they got the pace required to send the ball past the boundary line. They did that at a good rate and helped Gujarat Lions reach 72 for 1 at the end of the Powerplay. McCullum, who had initially adopted a more conservative approach compared to Smith, unleashed himself on the Australian pacer and smashed him for 25 runs in the sixth over. He was eventually caught by the Tabraiz Shamsi off the 50th ball of the chase. But with the score on 87, the former New Zealand captain had put his side in a strong position to overcome the target.
Kohli returned to the field after the Powerplay and showed no signs of pain. By then, the sun had also set and the temperature had dropped by 10 degree Celsius to facilitate a more pleasant playing condition.
Raina, unlike his last innings, attacked the bowlers more often and kept the chase on track in company of Dinesh Karthik, adding 53 runs off 7.2 overs. While looking to clear the ropes against Chahal, Raina holed out to Iqbal Abdullah at long off and the game was brought to balance.
In the end, Dinesh Karthik paced his half-century superbly to help Gujarat Lions win by 6 wickets.
“The second innings will be much more difficult to bat. We are 15-20 runs above par but we can’t take anything for granted, we will still look to defend 150-160,” Kohli had said confidently at the end of his innings on Sunday (April 24). Yet again, a match that was in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s grasp, courtesy their batting effort, was let away by the lack of skill in the other department.
Brief Scores: Royal Challengers Bangalore 180-2 in 20 overs (Virat Kohli 100*, Lokesh Rahul 51*; Pravin Tambe 1-24, Dhawal Kulkarni 1-39) lost to Gujarat Lions 182-4 in 19.3 overs (Dinesh Karthik 50*, Brendon McCullum 42; Tabraiz Shamsi 1-21, Yuzvendra Chahal 1-33) by 6 wickets