The action for Monday shifts to the cauldron of Sharjah, where KKR and RCB were going to fight it out for a step ahead in the playoffs. I stated a few blogs ago that Sharjah is UAE’s Chinnaswamy. However, with the sub-60m square boundaries on both sides of the wicket, I would rather compare it with one of the New Zealand cricket grounds where you can inside-edge a flick for 6. However, much to the respite of the bowlers, the new pitch at Sharjah which hosted the match between Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals, offered something for the bowlers. Hopefully, as the tournament goes on, there will be more at offer on the Sharjah pitch for the bowlers, making it a much even contest between bat and ball.

Kohli won the toss and deiced to bat first on a wicket, that was expected to slow down with the progression of the match. Clearly, the issue with Narine’s action seems to have troubled the team management, and they opted for Tom Banton instead. I found the decision quite inexplicable because Chris Green would have been a like for like replacement for Narine. But probably DK did not want to go in with the extra spinner, keeping the short boundaries of Sharjah in mind.

For the first time, since the departure of Chris Gayle, RCB is getting a solid opening partnership, this season. Both Paddikal and Finch are explosive, but more importantly, they are solid. The duo gave a good solid start to RCB tonight, much like they have done although the tournament. However, the highlight of the powerplay for me was the sheer disdain with which Devdut dispatched Cummins over point and cover, by exposing his stumps. Devudt Paddikal is a strong prospect for India, going ahead, especially with the consistency he is exhibiting against top international bowlers.

RCB raced to a very decent 47 off the first 6 overs. The absence of Narine meant that Russell had to come to the attack early. He looked consistent with his line and length and after a few dropped chances, disturbed Paddikal’s stumps with a fast yorker. Finch and Kohli joined hands with the intention of imparting pace to the RCB inning in the middle overs.

Varun Chakravarthy looked at the peak of his prowess once again. Even King Kohli decided to show due respect to this unknown commodity, as he played risk-free cricket and ran singles against Chakravarthy. Aaron Finch, on the other hand, was visibly flustered with this mystery spinner, as he often failed to judge Varun’s pace off the pitch. Varun was the main reason, why KKR dominated the middle overs in this game, as they conceded just 42 runs from their 6 overs, scalping the wicket of Finch.

With the choke that Chakravarthy applied on RCB, KKR surely missed Narine in the middle overs. I sincerely hope KKR gets their issues with Narine done and dusted, before their next game against MI. With the pitches in UAE slowing up more and more, Narine and Chakravarthy’s 8 overs in the middle phase will be extremely crucial for KKR, if they want to finish the league stage in the top half of the tournament.

After Finch’s dismissal outstepped Superman ABD. There are days when as the opposition captain, you run out of options and just marvel at the opposition’s magical batting. Today was one such day for Dinesh Karthik. Could he have done anything more with his available resources? I guess no. Nagarkoti did the exact thing that was required of him. He bowled cutters on the surface, exploiting the slow Sharjah pitch. He was successful till his 3rd over, with the strategy of slower balls and the occasional fast yorkers.  But then ABD struck- There is very little that words can express about ABD’s inning tonight. However, I will try.

To begin with, he did a basic adjustment to his technique. He realized that the real threat on this surface is the slower cutters. So instead of reaching out for the ball in the front foot, he sat on his back foot and waited for the slower ones. Nagarkoti even tried bowling his fast yorkers, only to be deposited over midwicket for a boundary, courtesy a nonchalant flick.

In the last 3 overs, it was just unbelievable batting from the South African. Russell tried bowling heavy length balls into the wicket, wide yorkers outside the stumps, but to no avail. Even perfect yorkers started getting dispatched to boundaries courtesy of some other-worldly timing from the super-duper AB De Villiers. On a pitch, that was already slowing up, De Villiers hit 5 boundaries and 6 towering sixes on his way to 73 off just 33 balls. RCB demolished KKR for 83 of the last 5 overs and it was clear at the halfway stage that ABD’s inning could take the match away from KKR. RCB finally ended with a  mammoth score of 194-2.

KKR played a punt by opening with Tom Banton. The only chance that KKR had on a slowing pitch, was to take advantage of the fielding restrictions in the powerplay. If KKR had to chase this down, they had to be at over a score of 60 in the powerplay. Even though Banton has impressed at Big Bash, I have always felt that he is not a player for Asian conditions yet. He plays spin with hard knees and a weak base- something that you cannot do on Asian wickets. Also, his game against pace is primarily square of the wicket- something that suits him on the hard bouncy Aussie pitches. However, in UAE, he had to come to the fore with his straight-down-the-ground game.

Once, the Banotn punt did not pay off, it was all downhill for KKR. KKR was never going to score heavily off Sundar and Chahal on this wicket and the spinners caused a landslide in the KKR middle order on a slowing pitch. Sundar and Chahal bowled 8 overs for 32 runs taking the wickets of Morgan, Karthik, and Rana to close down any probable chances for KRK in the match.

However, take nothing away from the RCB bowlers, who are looking at their potent best. I have never seen such a complete bowling attack of RCB, ever since the departure of Starc. Saini and Siraj are craning up the pace with accuracy. Morris suddenly is looking a different death bowler, with his series of pinpoint yorkers and knuckle deliveries. With Chahal’s newfound googly and Washington Sundar’s rediscovery of powerplay bowling skills, RCB is suddenly looking a strong contender for IPL 2020.

KKR should not be too perturbed by this defeat. It was just ABD striking an alien-inning for RCB tonight, that separated the 2 teams. However, DK needs to play either Green or Narine in the next game. With the pitches slowing up, KKR’s second spinner is going to play a massive role for the team, in the upcoming matches. Let’s hope Narine feels good enough to don the purple for KKR from the next match. As for RCB, everything is going hunky-dory and Virat needs to ensure that his team sustains the momentum, as the tournament moves towards the business end.