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De Villiers stands calm amid ruins to put Bangalore in final

Wisden India logo Wisden India 24-05-2016
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Virat Kohli fell for his first T20 duck in 51 innings and two years. Dhawal Kulkarni bowled an astonishing spell of 4-1-14-1 and had Royal Challengers Bangalore reeling at 29 for 5 in their chase of 159.

Despite that, Gujarat Lions found out that even if one of Bangalore’s top four batsmen get going, nothing is beyond the Royal Challengers’ reach. That one batsman for Bangalore on Tuesday (May 24) in the 2016 Indian Premier League was AB de Villiers. The South African pulled off a near-impossible heist with an unbeaten 47-ball 79, making light work of a chase that seemed over at one stage.

De Villiers’s brilliance along with a vital contribution from Iqbal Abdulla (33 not out) meant Bangalore won by four wickets with ten balls to spare and reached their third final in IPL history. Dwayne Smith’s 41-ball 73 that powered Gujarat to 158 from a tough position went in vain.

Bangalore’s chase seemed straightforward but it started with the rare sight of Kohli dragging one back to the stumps in the second over.

Before everyone in the stadium could recover from the shock of Kohli’s exit, Kulkarni did further damage in his next two overs. He went through Gayle’s attempted heave and followed it up with a peach of a ball that forced KL Rahul to edge to slip. An over later, Kulkarni exposed Sachin Baby’s inexperience, tempting him to drive a wide ball to cover.

Amid all the Kulkarni carnage, Ravindra Jadeja nipped out the vital wicket of Shane Watson to leave Bangalore in dire straits at 29 for 5. Stuart Binny shone briefly and counter-attacked, but just when he seemed to be launching, an umpiring error from Anil Chaudhary cut his innings short. Binny had tried to sweep Jadeja but was given leg before despite the impact being outside off, leaving Bangalore in trouble again at 68 for 6.

But the game was far from over, because one Mr AB de Villiers was still there, gradually setting himself up for something special. All he needed was a bit of company from his colleagues, and it came from an unlikely source in Iqbal Abdulla. De Villiers saw through a testing spell by Jadeja and dealt in singles against Dwayne Bravo but once he smelled a weak link in Smith and Shadab Jakati, he pounced with absolute disdain.

A bit of rain and panic-filled messages from the dressing room made things more interesting but de Villiers showed no signs of tension. He crossed his half-century off just 33 balls hitting Smith for a four and six and followed it up with a 16-run over off Jakati. All of a sudden, Bangalore needed just 33 runs in 24 balls – in other words, child’s play for an in-form de Villiers.

The South African snatched victory from the jaws of defeat but Gujarat lost the game in the first six overs with the bat. The pitch wasn’t as flat and hard as it usually is in Bangalore, but Gujarat’s top-order batsmen didn’t even give themselves a chance of reading it. Perhaps out of fear of Bangalore’s batting might, Gujarat’s batsmen seemed to aim too high and played shots off almost every ball.

The approach backfired badly and Gujarat were reduced to 9 for 3 in no time, with Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch and Suresh Raina falling cheaply. The slide started in the second over, when Abdulla nipped out Gujarat’s openers in the space of four balls. Eyes lit up seeing the unheralded spinner, McCullum danced down the track the very first ball only to mishit a lofted shot to deep extra cover. Two balls later, Finch edged to slip trying to play across.

Much depended on the in-form Raina but he fell in familiar fashion, tamely pulling a short ball from Watson to short fine-leg. It was from here that Smith, with a steady Dinesh Karthik for company, showed his top order the correct approach on the wicket. He took a little bit of time to get his eye in, but once that was done, showed that the ground was no match for his immense power.

Gujarat scored just 23 runs in the Power Play – the third lowest in this IPL – but the run-rate increased quickly once Smith got going. He took a special liking to Bangalore’s spinners, Abdulla and Chahal, and hit them over the leg-side boundary repeatedly despite the ball turning away. One such six off Abdulla took him past his half-century in just 31 balls.

But just when the spinners were proving expensive and the partnership shifted from ‘promising’ to ‘threatening’, Jordan and Watson took over with some smart death bowling to put Gujarat on the back foot again.

An ill-advised lap-sweep by Karthik took out his leg stump, Ravindra Jadeja came and went, Smith mishit one to long-on, and Dwayne Bravo failed once again. It required a few lusty blows from Eklavya Dwivedi to take them past 150.

As things turned out, it was not enough against the endless batting strength of Bangalore.

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