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Kohli leads electric top-order charge as Bangalore rise to fifth

Wisden India logo Wisden India 16-05-2016
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It is almost as if Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers play to a script when they get going in the Indian Premier League 2016. Kohli starts slow, closely observing the other opener, letting him take the onus upon himself, and then accelerates from the word go once de Villiers joins him in the middle.

So it was on Monday (May 16) night against Kolkata Knight Riders as the duo pulled off a challenging 184-run chase in electric fashion. The rain held out till the winning runs were scored, but with the threat looming over the Eden Gardens all evening, the Royal Challengers Bangalore batsmen made sure they were never behind the dreaded Duckworth-Lewis par score, pacing their knocks with caution, but sending the ball to the fence or over it at the slightest opportunity in an emphatic nine-wicket win.

Kolkata’s 183 for 5 seemed small towards the end as Kohli and de Villiers went about their business with a 115-run partnership that came off just 68 balls.

Kohli ended on 75 not out off 51 balls, his tremendously mature knock studded with five fours and three sixes, while de Villiers remained unbeaten on 59, hitting the same number of fours and sixes as Kohli.

The pitch was expected to always assist spin, but it did not turn as much as it was supposed to. In the end, all six bowlers employed by Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata captain, went for over eight runs an over, unable to solve the Kohli-de Villiers mystery.

After registering seven single-digit scores since destroying England with a battering ton in West Indies’s first match in the World T20, Chris Gayle finally returned to his destructive mode, walloping five fours and four sixes in a 31-ball knock of 49. Kohli played the supporting role in that opening partnership of 71, which came off just 43 balls, but the duo made sure Bangalore had the much-needed platform to plan out the chase.

Gayle’s dismissal was tad iffy, with Sunil Narine trapping his West Indies teammate with one that spun back in. The umpire took some time before he raised his finger, but even with Kohli shaking his head in disapproval from the non-striker’s end, Gayle had no option but to make the slow walk back to the dugout.

It was difficult to make out if the ear-splitting roar that the crowd – a mix of Kolkata and Bangalore fans – broke into was for the fall of wicket, or the arrival of de Villiers in the middle, but what followed kept the packed gathering on their toes for the next 11.1 overs.

Earlier, once Uthappa fell, caught beautifully by a diving Iqbal Abdullah off his own bowling, Gautam Gambhir and Manish Pandey held fort, stringing together a 76-run partnership off 49 balls for the second wicket.

Gambhir brought up his half century off 32 balls, hitting seven glorious shots to the fence, but fell prey to a second mix-up with Pandey two balls later, with Kolkata on 90 for 2 in the 11th over.

It would be fair to say that Pandey was responsible for the hesitancy, and the Karnataka batsman knew it. But he quickly put that behind him and showed more determination in the way he went about his knock from then on. He clouted Shane Watson for a powerful flat six in the next over and delicately timed an S Arvind delivery for four through third man before succumbing to the temptation of hitting a big shot over long on just after crossing fifty. AB de Villiers was the one to pouch the catch off Arvind.

With the top-three gone, it was up to the in-form Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell to take the innings forward, but after four blistering unbeaten knocks, Yusuf’s good run ended after a 12-ball stay in the crease for 6. Kolkata were 118 for 4 in 14.1 overs at that stage and still in need of a final burst from one of their middle-order batsmen to get them to a total big enough to challenge Kohli and Co.

Suryakumar Yadav couldn’t help in that respect, departing cheaply and leaving the last recognised batting pair of Russell and Shakib Al Hasan to do the job.

Russell took responsibility and produced a signature cameo that yielded 39 off 19 balls, smashing three sixes and two fours, while Shakib (18 off 11) played his part of rotating the strike while hitting one monster six in between, to finish unbeaten alongside Russell.

Some of the Bangalore players, including Kohli, had a discussion with the umpire after the penultimate ball of the Kolkata innings, bowled by Watson, was called wide, which gave Russell an extra ball to face. It was a close call and Russell could only pick up two extra runs off that ball, but in the end, it didn’t make much of a difference to Bangalore, who remain in the hunt for a berth in the play-offs with the win.

Bangalore are now fifth in the eight-team points table with 12 points in the kitty, while Kolkata remain second, only behind Sunrisers Hyderabad.

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