The Royal Challengers Bangalore, led by Virat Kohli, resumed their campaign to win a maiden IPL trophy as they went up against 7th placed Kolkata Knight Riders. All eyes have been on RCB lately due to their mercurial captain Virat Kohli announcing his decision to step down as captain of the Indian National Men's Cricket Team post the T20 World Cup and RCB post this season's IPL to concentrate more on his batting. This decision puts added pressure on RCB to win it for their franchise cornerstone, who has stuck with them through the good, bad and the ugly.
The green pitch in the Zayed Cricket Stadium at Abu Dhabi seemed to be perfect for a cracker of a game. Despite the team chasing winning more, Virat Kohli chose to bat first after winning the toss to put more pressure on the KKR batting lineup as they chased. The grass on the pitch seemed to influence Kohli's decision as he felt that the pitch might slow down as the match wore out, making it seem more logical to bat first. "Grass covering is to hold the surface together. We think it is going to slow down as the game progresses. More special than the 200th game is this uniform: we promised that we would be playing for the Covid warriors, with these jerseys being auctioned for people," said Kohli to Star Sports during the toss.
The captain opened with young star Devdutt Padikkal and seemed to look in good touch finding the boundary with a beautiful cover drive. Pacer Prasidh Krishna hit right back as he took out Kohli with an lbw after a good delivery. Kohli's wicket was a crucial breakthrough for KKR as it then caused a complete collapse of the RCB top order. Devdutt Padikkal tried to hold the fort with a couple of brilliant shots and looked to get going on his way to a big inning before Lockie Ferguson took him out to end the powerplay. RCB still had a shot to come back and set up a good total before Andre Russell mounted the pressure on them with two quickfire wickets as he got the scalps of both wicketkeeper Srikar Bharath and the trailblazing AB de Villiers. ABD's wicket especially was a gut punch to RCB as he is a key cog capable of dismantling the best bowling attacks on his day. Russell got the mesmerizing batsmen with a peach of a yorker which was virtually unplayable for the experienced South African.
It was a collapse like none other for the RCB batting lineup from there as their famed batsmen struggled to find breathing room. The KKR bowling lineup was relentless as they mounted pressure with a couple of beautiful deliveries and impeccable fielding. Leggie Varun Chakravarthy was one of the few to shine brighter than the rest as he took out the dangerous Glenn Maxwell and ace all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga in back-to-back deliveries, missing a maiden hattrick by a whisker. He took out Sachin Baby in his very next over with a well bowled deceiving delivery. Varun then made an important fielding contribution as he got a feather of a finger trying to stop Kyle Jamieson's hard drive to the ground before the ball hit the wicket. Lockie Ferguson got Harshal Patel out in the very next over with a lovely slow yorker that had the batsmen bamboozled.
RCB was now in an extremely precarious situation as they were in danger of being bundled out before they hit 100. Mohammad Siraj and Yuzvendra Chahal were the last lines of defence as they tried to mount a respectable score to defend. Unfortunately, Siraj got out trying to scoop the ball over the fine leg. The Kolkata Knight Riders batting lineup now had their task made easier for them due to a brilliant bowling performance as they chased a meagre of 92. It looked like a case of ring rust for the formidable RCB batting lineup, but there are hopes that they will come good as the tournament goes on. It was now up to a potent RCB bowling lineup to save their teams blushes and take the game down to the wire.
KKR got off to a fiery start as debutant Venkatesh Iyer smashed two boundaries with two classy shots off Mohammed Siraj. Shubman Gill and Iyer came out like they meant business and dissected the RCB bowling lineup in the first two overs to give them the ideal confident boost to chase the total down quickly. The Iyer and Gill tandem seemed to be working for KKR as the duo let loose and helped their team reach 50 within six overs. The match seemed to be slipping away from RCB's grasp as the well-set duo carefully dissected the opposing bowling attack and ripped them to shreds. The reaction of Virat Kohli as he tipped his hat after a classy reverse hit four by Iyer summed up RCB's game today as they were outplayed by KKR in every aspect.
KKR wrapped up the game in 10 overs in what was a dominating victory as they won by 9 wickets. This victory would be an ideal confidence booster for Eoin Morgan and his men as they battle through with an improbable task of making it to the playoffs due to their position in the league.
"Very rarely do you perform as well as we have today. The talent we have within our squad, it counts for nothing, you have to still go out and show how strong you are and we did today. I didn't think the wicket changed a great deal, RCB started well, but taking a wicket at the backend of the PP changed things for us. Collectively, we took valuable wickets. Maxwell, AB, Virat - we managed to get on top of all of them, it's very rare as well. As a group, with the expressive nature with which the guys play, playing under me or Baz, should be an absolute treat. We're not going to knock people for playing their shots. We have a long way to go, need a lot of things to go right. Today's the right start, need that run of confidence. We haven't turned up for the majority of the tournament, but today was a great start," said KKR captain Eoin Morgan in the post-game interview with Star Sports.
Not the ideal start for RCB, with all the talk and pressure surrounding the team and its captain right now.
"Was important to get a good partnership. We didn't expect that much dew to kick in that early. From 42 for 1, we lost 5 wickets for 20-odd. Bit of a wake-up call might as well have this at the start of the second leg so that we know what we should work on. You can make the argument that we were rusty but as professionals, you're expected to turn up and adjust. Sometimes it can take you a game, I hope not two, to get into the tournament, you have to stay with the eight-ball, if you're not, the other teams will be all over you. Pretty good from Varun, he's going to be a key factor when he plays for India. It's great guys who've got the opportunity to play at the international level. He's someone who is going to play in the near future for India, it's a great sign. We have five-win from eight, we expect a loss here and there, it's part and parcel, need to be professional, stick to our strengths and execute our plans. We have absolute confidence in our squad to pull up next game onwards and put in strong performances," said RCB captain Virat Kohli in his post-match interview with Star Sports.
Knowing Virat Kohli and the firepower at RCB's disposal, they will be back soon and are still in a very good position to qualify for the playoffs. Losing a game in this manner is always difficult, but this might serve as a lesson for them before the rigours of the playoffs as they zone in.