As the IPL juggernaut rolls on, we come to the season’s first doubleheader. It would be the first time in the season that teams will be coming out to play under the scorching sun at 41 Degree Celsius. It was going to be excruciating and the 2 teams facing up each other in the heat of UAE were RCB and RR. Smith and Kohli have had their fair share of histories with exhibitions of both controversial statements and mutual respect in the past. However, there is no doubt about it, that Smith and Kohli are the greatest players of their generations and the IPL stage was waiting to see their battle on-field.
Smith won the toss and opted to set a target for the men in red. However, he committed a basic mistake at the very beginning. It is common knowledge now, that RCB’s death bowling woes are increasing day by day. Last night MI scored 72 off the last 4 overs against RCB. The best bowler for RCB at the death has been Navdeep Saini so far- with none of the international recruits of the franchise, inspiring confidence in the slog overs.
In such a situation, a prudent thing for RR to do was to interchange the batting position of Smith and Uthappa. Smith could have come in at 4 and set himself up in order to capitalize on the death. He did not adopt the batting order to exploit the weakness of the opposition and paid big time for the same. Before RR could realize they lost the top-heavy head of the snake handing the advantage to RCB in the first 10 overs.
Smith chopped on an off-cutter from Udana. Butler was done in, by the pace of Saini and Samson skewed an inside edge to the wily Chahal. In the wink of an eye, the RR batting order disintegrated much as it did against KKR last night. Yuzvendra Chahal has really upped his game in the T20 setup. Earlier he used to bowl his leg spinner and the googlies in different lines. He would pitch his googly around off stump and pitch his leg spinners around the middle-leg stump. Hence, a batsman could read his spin from his line of attack, even though he did not pick him off the hands.
Now, Chahal is bowling both his googlies and leg spinners in the off stump line, asking the batsman uncomfortable questions. As a result, he is picking up wickets for fun this IPL. This afternoon, he accounted for 3 top order RR wickets, in a match-winning spell.
After the dismissal of the top order, Uthappa played his innings at less than run-a-ball-something that he has made a habit of, this IPL. The middle-order is not a place for Uthappa. I hope RR realizes that soon. An unlikely hero emerged today for RR amidst the collapse, in the form of Mahipal Lomror. Lomror, is so much like young Ravindra Jadeja, back in 2008. He has the vigor to play big shots against spin and has the ability to milk the ball for singles in the gaps against pacers.
The top-order collapse meant that Lomror got an opportunity to build his innings and much like Priyam Garg last night, he held on to this opportunity with both hands. Lomror hit the experienced Chahal for a couple of sixes and kept turning the strike over, ensuring the top order collapse got arrested. He scored 45 off 39 deliveries to give the likes of Tewatia and Archer to swing their bats and take RR to a respectable total of 154. One point needs to be mentioned here, that Kohli was good with his bowling changes today and Saini bowled with extraordinary pace and accuracy. On any other day, he would have picked 2 more wickets, but such is the game of cricket that it is unfair to you on some days.
RCB came out to bat in the pursuit of 155 to win. RR needed early wickets and they did get one, as Gopal dismissed Finch trapped in front of the wicket. And thus King Kohli came to the crease. While there was a lot of hue and cry going over the form of Kohli in the past 3 matches, I did not mention a word about it in any of my articles. I felt, class players will come good sooner or later, and then I can soak in his brilliance and write about the same.
Virat Kohli came into the crease with RR having smelt blood at the early wicket of Finch. To be fair to Smith, he did everything right with his leadership. He brought on the leg spinner (Rahul Chahar has been the cause of Kohli’s undoing a few nights ago). He brought on the extra pace of Archer, but on certain days, as an opposition leader, there is only so much that you can do. Kohli gradually eased himself into the crease, doing the basics right. He kept on turning the strike over to Padikkal, to begin his innings.
As much we can talk about Kohli today, Paddikal has got a huge role to play to bring Kohli back to form. Devdut Paddikal, the young left-hander is showing varying levels of maturity in different matches. The moment Kohli got to the crease, Devdut started taking the attack to the opposition. This allowed Kohli, the time to settle in the crease during his first 15 deliveries.
Once, Kohli got past the initial barrier, he was at his godly best yet again. There are certain shots, that indicate the batsman’s return to form. For Sachin, it was the majestic straight drive. For Kohli, today, it was the whip he played of Tewatia to the square leg boundary, that officially marked the King’s return to form. Devdut Paddikal was equally potent at the other end, striking boundaries and running hard between the wickets. This left-hander can be a huge India prospect if he can keep his work ethic in place throughout his career.
Both Kohli and Paddikal stitched a 99 run partnership in the heat of UAE to mesmerize the cricket fans. The regal nature of the left hander’s cover drives brought back memories of the legendary Yuvraj Singh. Kohli’s hard punches through cover soothed our eye after such a long time. When Paddikal was dismissed by Archer, the game was already over. Paddikal scored an excellent 63 and Kohli dominated with his blistering 72, to return to his usual chase-master form. As a result, RCB won their 3rd match in the tournament to go to the top of the table.
RR’s weak spot in the bowling has been their 2nd seamer. Both Jaydev Unadkat and Tom Curran have not looked like taking wickets and have gone the distance. The absence of Stokes is affecting the balance of the squad big time and hopefully, he will be available for them soon enough. Also, if RR wants to play Uthappa, there is no point playing him down the order. He has to open the inning with Butler and Smith and Samson can hold the fort in the middle order.
RCB’s weak death bowling was not exploited today, due to some mindless decision making form Smith. However, I still feel Zampa is redundant in the line-up and as long as Morris does not come in, Steyn is a very good option for the powerplay overs, leaving Udana with overs at the death. I hope Virat and Katich find this chink out before it is too late.