April 30, 2018
Kohli’s lead role
Andre Russell is not slow. Despite having his struggles against injuries, the big Jamaican can get the leather ball through rapidly. With just four overs to bowl in the T20 format, the man with the mohawk does not need to conserve himself. Russell turned 30 on Sunday, and had a pretty good birthday on the field against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Getting 3/31 in three overs would constitute a pretty good day’s work.
But the wickets of Brendon McCullum, Manan Vohra and Mandeep Singh are not what most cricket fans would remember Russell’s spell by. Instead it was two shots played in one over by Virat Kohli which will remain in people’s memories.
RCB were 133/3 after 17 overs, and some way from the big score customary at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. The absence of their talisman AB de Villiers, due to a virus, had made their top order cagey. Quinton de Kock and the returning McCullum had put on an opening partnership of 67 without ever getting the scoring rate to the required level. After the hosts lost three quick wickets, the onus fell on skipper Kohli to give the Kolkata Knight Riders a testing chase.
Kohli was batting on 40 from 33 balls and despite some signature shots, KKR skipper Dinesh Karthik would have not been two worried. Russell missed his length by just a fraction and Kohli dispatched him over long-on with a shot that MS Dhoni would have been proud of.
With a minimum of back lift, he sent the ball sailing into the crowd after what seemed like a short-arm jab. On the last ball of the same over, after Russell had got Mandeep caught on the mid-wicket fence, Kohli unfurled a similar shot, only this time it went a bit squarer as it was a slower delivery. For a player not overly big of build, it is quite remarkable how much power and distance he gets in those aerial shots.
RCB are in a precarious position in this year’s IPL. Kohli had been among runs in the tournament, without making a telling contribution in a winning cause. Sunday was his chance to get his team moving in the right direction on the points table.
After a relatively slow start to his knock, he got himself going with a textbook cover drive off Russell. Then he got into his old adversary Mitchell Johnson, with a punch through the off-side.
With the pitch offering ample help to spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine were proving a tough proposition, but Kohli made the pacers pay. Youngster Shivam Mavi was expertly guided past short third-man and then a wide one was lifted over point for a boundary.
The last three overs went for 42 runs, and the RCB skipper put the perfect finishing touch by getting inside the line of a lifting a short-of-length slower delivery from Johnson and lifting it over deep backward square for a maximum.
But with a weak bowling attack on the small Chinnaswamy playing area, it was never going to be enough once KKR got off to a swift start.
Smasher drops anchor
Chris Lynn generally bats at just one pace — full throttle. He is also notoriously shaky against spin. On Sunday, the Queenslander went some way in changing the script on both counts. The man who loves hitting the ball to the fence and over it frequently gave his partners the go-ahead while batting through the innings as victory was achieved in the final over.
Lynn also negotiated the two wrist spinners in the opposition — Yuzvendra Chahal and Murugan Ashwin — effectively on a spin-friendly surface, using the sweep shot as his primary weapon.
He allowed opening partner Narine the freedom to go after the bowling and the move paid off handsomely. The RCB pacemen — Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee and Mohammad Siraj — had done their homework and peppered the left-handed pinch hitter with short stuff. But Narine survived, more through luck than by design, and flourished as well, and his 27 off 19 balls gave the Knight Riders the required impetus.
Robin Uthappa played a useful cameo, taking the spinners down the ground. Nitish Rana did not last long, retiring hurt due to a bad lower back and Russell went first ball as well. But Karthik has made a habit of finishing off tricky chases and his 23 off 10 balls took out all the pressure that KKR would have felt in the last few overs.
But all through these up and downs, Lynn was ever present at one end, and providing the occasional big hit that prevented the target from getting too far away.
Reaching 50 off 42 balls doesn’t sound too quick, but a match-winning unbeaten 62 off 52 is definitely worthwhile for KKR.
Lynn will have M Ashwin to thank though. As well as the young spinner bowled on the night, getting two wickets for 36 runs, he dropped Lynn when the Australian was on seven. In fact, Kohli would be livid with the catching and ground fielding of his side as they let the KKR batsmen off the hook on several occasions.
The win keeps KKR firmly in the race for a playoff spot while RCB slide further into the lower reaches of the points table.