Utterly wasteful batting left Royal Challengers Bangalore closer to the brink than ever before in IPL 2017. They needed 158 to win the first of five games Virat Kohli said they had to win to make the play-offs. They did not need a scoreline that read 53 for 5 in the 10th over. But that is what they got. That, and a chastening, morale-killing 61-run defeat.
Rising Pune Supergiant were not complaining. They finally got to defend a total at home and safeguard their position at fourth place on the points table.
So what now for RCB? They can, mathematically, still make the final four, but can a team that fell to 49 all out, a team that will lose AB de Villiers in the coming weeks, a team that tops the charts in run-outs (7), single-digit scores (40) and scoring slowly in the Powerplay (6.64) stop the rot in time?
Rahul Tripathi has shouldered considerable responsibility in his first IPL season. He is expected to take advantage of fielding restrictions in the Powerplay, which by itself is not an unreasonable demand. But the 26-year old has also had to make up for his partner’s struggles. Ajinkya Rahane’s strike-rate of 123 is the lowest among openers with 100 or more runs in this IPL and today he fell early as well, sweeping a full toss to short fine leg.
RCB might have thought that gave them the advantage. After all, Tripathi did not even play the 2017 domestic T20 tournament. But on a grander stage, against tougher bowlers, he has now smashed six straight 30-plus scores – an unmatched tally – and specifically in the first six overs, he has 198 runs – another unmatched tally – hitting a boundary every 3.71 balls.
A see-saw innings
Pune collected 43 runs in the Powerplay, but only 26 in the next five overs, hitting only one four. This was because they had to deal with a dry pitch and a set of RCB players swearing by their slower balls. Another thing that worked for Kohli was his use of Pawan Negi. The left-arm spinner has bowled 120 balls this season – 103 of them have been to right-handers. They have also contributed to seven of his eight wickets, Tripathi the latest to succumb for 37 off 28 balls. Negi finished with 1 for 18, equalling his most economical spell of four overs in IPL history.
It seems par for the course for Pune to potter along between the seventh and 14th overs: since they came into being in 2016, their run-rate of 7.55 in this phase has been the slowest among all teams. Only this year, it might actually be their plan, considering Manoj Tiwary’s form, MS Dhoni’s reputation, and the Ben Stokes investment. Against RCB, they had the first two on call but not the third. So Steven Smith smacked Samuel Badree for 6, 4, 4 in the 12th over and Pune had suddenly found 29 runs in two overs.
RCB did well to pull things back, taking pace off the ball against Tiwary, and tucking Dhoni up by bowling into his body. In the slog overs, when batsmen are solely thinking boundaries, those were sound plans. The last of the sound plans.
It began with de Villiers crunching a backfoot drive straight to short cover’s hands. Score, 32 for 2. Then Kedar Jadhav was run-out, as he and Kohli looked for an overthrow when the ball was a few little feet away from the bowler. Score, 44 for 3. Sachin Baby chipped a catch to short midwicket. Score, 47 for 4. Stuart Binny top-edged a hook and was caught at long leg. Score, 48 for 5. Trent Woodhill, the batting coach, was sitting in the dugout, watching in pure horror.
Lockie Ferguson, who conceded 44 runs in his only other IPL game, came away with 4-1-7-2 today, including 18 dots, the highest for the season. Now that suggests he was terrifying, but he wasn’t. Then did Smith funk it up with his fields? No. The pitch wasn’t playing tricks either. There was no evidence to suggest every RCB batsman barring Kohli would only manage single-digits.