RCB and DC faced off at the Abu Dhabi international cricket stadium for a high-stake league match tonight. When the penultimate match of the round-robin stage began on a flat Abu Dhabi surface, we were yet to know the names of 3 of the playoff qualifying teams. Such has been the tight competition in this year’s IPL, that the fate of 4 teams depended on a final couple of matches.
DC won the toss and chose to field. Shreyas Iyer made an interesting change to the squad as he replaced Hetmeyer with Rahane in the playing 11. DC has historically gone for firepower over solidity in terms of their batting. The change in the DC batting lineup only showed the value of solidity in the T20 format even in crunch matches like these.
Both the teams were coming out of a pretty bad patch. DC has lost 4 games in a row while RCB has lost 3. Either of their losing streaks was supposed to end tonight. In a battle between 2 out-of-form teams, the team setting the early momentum generally wins the match. Shreyas Iyer did exactly that with his brilliant field placements. With the backward point, point, cover, mid-off Iyer packed the off side asking Joshua Phillipe to go over the top. Joshua Phillipe is not an excellent player of the aerial cut shot and with the Steve Smith-like stance, his only scoring option was to slice a cover drive over the infield. Courtesy of some accurate bowling from Daniel Sams, Phillipe found it difficult to get going and was ultimately holed out to Prithvi Shaw at the cover. Iyer’s first plan got executed successfully and that gave DC an early advantage.
Virat Kohli and the responsibly impressive Paddikal consolidated the inning as they have done all season. However, much like they have consolidated well all season, they have failed to take their game to the next gear. Virat, once again fell at a critical juncture after getting set, as he under edged a flighted off-spinner from Ashwin to deep midwicket.
Some tight bowling from Axar and Ashwin in the middle overs meant that DC dominated the middle overs as well, after a decent powerplay. This season, Ashwin is bowling his best white-ball spell in the last 5 years. I believe that he tried too many things, including the leg-spin and it is so reassuring to see him going back to his strength of the floaty off-spin.
Paddikal followed soon after Kohli after a well made 51 off 40 deliveries and Morris joined the procession in the same over. Anrich Nortje looked exceptional at the death for the first time in the last 5 matches and regular wickets hurt RCB’s dream of posting a high score. Clearly, AB De Villiers was left with too much to do all alone, as he fought a lone battle with 35 from 21 deliveries to set up a decent score for RCB. For the first time in the last 4 matches, DC looked disciplined at the death as both Rabada and Nortje finally executed their yorkers and slower ones to perfection.
It is in chases like these that you need your experienced batsmen to come to the party and for DC 2 of their most experienced compatriots took responsibility tonight. But before we go to Dhawan and Rahane, we need to take a moment to applaud Siraj for his dismissal of Shaw. That ball angling into the middle-leg stump and then seaming away to take the top of off stump is a dream delivery for any pacer and Siraj would want to play it in loops in near future.
After the early dismissal of Shaw, Rahane and Dhawan joined hands to close the game for DC. Rahane has found it difficult to go into double figures this season but in his side’s most crucial encounter ,. He came good. Shikhar Dhawan blasted away in his own typical style while Rahane punched, drove, swept, and flicked with authority.
When Shikhar Dhawan is moving onto the front foot and playing those crisp off drives, it is a treat to watch him on the crease. Dhawan stepped out to spinners and drove the pace of Morris and Siraj with comfort to throw the RCB bowling into disarray.
The lynchpin of the RCB attack throughout the tournament has been Yuzvendra Chahal. The duo of Dhawan and Rahane was intelligent enough to play him out, taking no unnecessary risks against the leggie. In fact, the ease with which Rahane and Dhawan negotiated Chahal prompted Virat to bring on Shahbaz Ahmed to push the batsmen to take some risk.
Dhawan hit a few lusty blows against Shahbaz to complete his blitzkrieg half-century, after which he fell eventually caught at short fine leg. However, Rahane stayed as a rock and ensured that DC had no hiccups in this vital chase. He played an extremely vital inning of 58 runs to ensure that DC proceeded to the playoffs as one of the top 2 teams.
The fact that DC took the game deep and did not try to win it before 17.3 overs ensured that RCB qualified for the playoffs as well, but in the 3rd position. Tomorrow’s clash thus turns out to be a vital one for SRH, as a victory tot hem would ensure them sneaking in as the 4th team in the playoff race.