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Regal Kohli steers Bangalore to Qualifier 1

Wisden India logo Wisden India 22-05-2016

Like flies to light, a large audience was drawn to the Shaheed Veer Narayan International Cricket Stadium on Sunday (May 22) to witness Virat Kohli. They weren’t there to cheer Delhi Daredevils — the ‘home’ side — or Royal Challengers Bangalore. They weren’t there to see which one of these two sides would make it to the playoffs of the Indian Premier League 2016. They were only there for Kohli, and were treated to a yet another masterclass from the current savant of the shortest format.

It wasn’t as jaw-dropping as his four centuries nor was this half-century — his sixth this season — as intimidating as some of his earlier innings. In fact, he was outdone by KL Rahul in pursuit of a lowly 138 for 8 set by Delhi, but the way he scripted his innings and stuck to his role was genius.

The result of Kohli’s unbeaten 54 from 45 deliveries was that Bangalore, who ended the night on 139 for 4 from 18.1 overs to notch up a six-wicket win, finished second on the points table with 16 points – the same as Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders, but at a superior net run rate of +0.932. They will thus take on Gujarat Lions in Qualifier 1 at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium back home on Tuesday.

The score suggests that Bangalore put on a disciplined show with the ball after asking Delhi to bat first and were a quality fielding unit. Only part of that is true because their catching and ground fielding was indeed as good as it could have been. There were a couple of lapses, but only one — Quinton de Kock being put down by Chris Jordan when on 8 — cost them as the batsman went on compile 60 from 52 deliveries to provide some meat to Delhi’s total.

As far as their bowling was concerned, they weren’t as efficient as Kohli would have liked. They were far too forgiving after gaining early momentum, but they well and truly established their authority by squeezing the air out of Delhi’s lungs as their innings meandered without hope.

Signs of a low score weren’t all at all evident from the way de Kock and Karun Nair got going. Their blazing blades were the solution to Delhi’s concerns after losing Rishabh Pant to S Arvind in the second over. The duo was being aggressive and picking up runs quickly.

Kohli, evidently displeased with how Bangalore’s grip was loosening, took things into his own hands to nip a promising alliance in the bud with one of the best catches this season, and he didn’t even dive to get on that list.

Moving from deep midwicket to mid-off for Nair, Kohli’s eyes lit up after spotting a mistimed hit from the batsman over the bowler’s head. Yuzvendra Chahal, the bowler, may not have expected his captain to get there – most men wouldn’t have. But Kohli isn’t most men. He covered about 40 metres with his eyes always on the ball to complete the catch over his head.

Kohli’s catch probably won’t go down in history as a significant moment, but as far as Bangalore were concerned it was because Nair, who had scored an unbeaten 83 in Delhi’s win against Hyderabad a couple of nights ago, can be dangerous.

Having seen their skipper come up with something outrageous, the rest stepped it up and it started with Rahul completing a fine catch behind the stumps to dismiss Sanju Samson. The biggest surprise, however, came when Chris Gayle dived full length to his right a couple of overs later to complete a fantastic catch and pack off the dangerous Sam Billings.

While Delhi started their slide down a slippery slope, de Kock kept his head above water by playing a sensible knock. He was hoping for some assistance from the other end, but he found none. He waged a lone battle to bring up his half-century from 43 deliveries.

De Kock’s hopes spiked when Carlos Brathwaite made it out to the middle. Those prospects fell flat in minutes as Brathwaite dug a full and wide delivery from Gayle straight to Shane Watson at backward point. Gayle, who had accounted for Pawan Negi in the same over, had cracked Delhi’s spine, but the de Kock threat remained. That was only until the South African mishit a short and wide delivery from Chahal to Jordan at wide long-off.

That was the beginning of the 17th over and any hope Delhi had of heavy hitting towards the end too slipped through that void left by de Kock.

Bangalore, with easily one of the most destructive line-ups in all of T20 cricket, had a small total to chase on a big ground against a clinical bowling line-up. Everyone assumed it would be a fairly straightforward affair as Kohli and Gayle walked out, but the pressure built when Gayle dragged Chris Morris’s first delivery on to the stumps.

Then came AB de Villiers and he looked in control, taking seven deliveries to reach six. Zaheer Khan produced a delivery that bounced off a length and took the shoulder of his bat to lob towards cover-point, where Jayant Yadav ran in to complete a good low catch.

Kohli had no control of the situation and was evidently peeved. He could, however, control how he marshalled Rahul through his stay. In Rahul’s ears at all times, Kohli got his point across and even shielded the docile youngster from lip service when Morris tried to get in his head after being hit for a few boundaries.

So in sync was Kohli during the 66-run stand that he lost his temper and slammed his pads after Rahul was bowled by Brathwaite after a 23-ball 38 with the score on 83.

Kohli knew there was still a job at hand and kept egging Watson in too, but the Australian wasn’t able to stay the course. Fortunately, Kohli was and it was one of the most significant innings in Bangalore’s history.

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