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Kohli, Watson take Bangalore home

Wisden India logo Wisden India 07-05-2016
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Despite being the most expensive player at the auctions in February, Shane Watson has flown under the radar at Royal Challengers Bangalore. Much of the attention has centred around the glamour boys – Virat Kohli, obviously, and AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle. Why, even Chris Jordan had attracted more eyeballs before his debut than the recently retired Australian allrounder.

At the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday (May 7) evening, Watson stamped his authority on the Indian Premier League 2016, first with the ball and then, more tellingly, with the bat. Ploughing almost a lone furrow with the ball, Watson took 3 for 24 to ensure that Rising Pune Supergiants were limited to 191 for 6 despite getting off to a cracking start on an excellent surface, but he had saved his best for later.

Adam Zampa, the Australian legspinner on his debut for the Pune franchise, threatened to derail Bangalore’s chase after a fabulous opening salvo when he winkled out KL Rahul and AB de Villiers in the space of six deliveries. Watson walked in with Bangalore needing 95 more off 48 deliveries; by the time he departed after a 13-ball 36, the equation had come down to a more manageable 49 off 27.

Manageable, but far from a done deal. Unless, of course, you answer to the name of Virat Kohli.

The Bangalore skipper’s extraordinary hot streak extended to a beautifully crafted unbeaten 108, an innings that eclipsed all before it, including Watson’s all-round brilliance. Kohli’s 58-ball masterpiece with eight fours and seven massive sixes was the perfect example of how to orchestrate a chase with little panic as Bangalore ended a three-match losing run in some style, winning by seven wickets with three deliveries to spare.

In becoming the first player to score two centuries in a single season, Kohli merely reaffirmed the strides he has taken in the last couple of years. He and Rahul were tied down by Ashok Dinda and RP Singh at the start of the chase – the first three overs yielded only 10 runs – but while there was understandable edginess, there was always the reassuring presence of Kohli that the less experienced Rahul could feed off.

Gradually, Kohli began to find his range – he had made just 5 off his first 9 deliveries when he crashed RP over the cover fence off the back foot – and even though Rahul struggled for timing, together the duo took Bangalore over the first hurdle. The first opening half-century stand of the season mushroomed to 94 when Zampa, coming in for the injured M Ashwin, forced Rahul to chip to George Bailey at deep over.

De Villiers arrived to a stirring reception from a packed gathering but holed out to long-off, leaving Kohli holding the baby. Watson entertained and regaled with five fours in one Thisara Perera over and two successive sixes off Rajat Bhatia in the next, but Kohli still had to apply the finishing touches. 63 when Watson departed, he scored 45 of the next 52 runs as Travis Head enjoyed the entertainment from the best seat in the ground.

Bangalore’s cause was helped by some strange decision-making from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who didn’t employ R Ashwin’s offspin until the 17th over – and that for only one over. Ashwin conceded only seven, but Kohli latched on to Zampa and then RP Singh before rounding off the entertainment with the winning boundary, a flick off Dinda that screamed through the infield.

Like Kohli, there is also much to admire about the way Ajinkya Rahane goes constructing a Twenty20 innings, but if there is one area where there is scope for improvement, it is in his calling. Even in the last game, he and Usman Khawaja had serious communication problems, and it was little short of a miracle that there was no run out. There was no such luck this time around, the yes-no resulting in both batsmen stranded at the same end to put an end to a brisk opening salvo of 26 marked by crisp hitting from the Australian in particular.

Among Rahane’s admirable traits is his ability to put the past behind him. As Saurabh Tiwary arrived in a blaze of boundaries – contrary to norm, he struck the ball through the offside as much as through the on – Rahane put the Khawaja mix-up between him and temporarily put the big shots away. He did continue to score briskly, but almost anonymously as Tiwary, becalmed between boundaries, and Jordan hogged the limelight.

Jordan had a tidy evening until Bhatia and Ashwin took 16 off his – and the innings’ – final over, but he didn’t always get his lengths right; he will get better as he gets more into the tournament. What it meant, however, was that once again, Bangalore’s bowling was under the pump, redeemed only by a brilliant effort from Watson, whose changes of pace and his ability to stick to his disciplines brought him commensurate rewards.

Watson’s 3 for 24 thrust him to joint second in the Purple Cap stakes with 12 sticks, and was singularly responsible for keeping Pune well below 200. It didn’t help the home side’s cause that the catching was shoddy and the ground fielding less than electric. Tiwary was dropped off consecutive Varun Aaron deliveries on 19 by Stuart Binny (cover) and Sachin Baby (point), and Rahul then missed a regulation stumping off Yuzvendra Chahal with the batsman on 25. All this happened in a 17-ball period during which there were two misfields that went for four, and a leading edge from Rahane off Aaron fell between the bowler and Watson, neither man going for the gentle lob.

Each of the first 13 overs produced at least one boundary as Pune set themselves up for a final assault through the second wicket stand of 106 with Rahane gradually wending his way to equal-partner status. Where Tiwary muscled the ball, Rahane coaxed and cajoled it into gaps, though he wasn’t afraid to pull when the ball was banged in short. It finally took a wide from Chahal for Bangalore to snap the second-wicket stand, Rahul completing the stumping with Tiwary practically shaking hands with the bowler.

Dhoni departed after one top-edged six and Perera lashed a four and a six, but Bangalore enjoyed a stirring seven balls during which they took 3 for 3 including Rahane for a polished 74, his sixth half-century this season so that when the final over began, the score was 175. Ashwin lashed Jordan over wide long-on, and Bhatia creamed him over cover to ensure Pune finished with a flourish as the last five overs leaked 53. On another day, it might have been comfortably enough.

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