One of the key highlights of Royal Challengers Bangalore's impressive form this season has been Virat Kohli and the management's attention to match-up details. It was seen in the game against Kolkata Knight Riders when Washington Sundar was held back, bowling just one over in the powerplay, for taking on two left-handers Nitish Rana and Eoin Morgan and both were confronted by the offie. It was also seen in the Rajasthan Royals game when Yuzvendra Chahal was introduced early in the innings to take down Sanju Samson and he did not disappoint the skipper but was reserved in the Chennai Super Kings tie to trouble their skipper MS Dhoni. And it was seen on Thursday evening as well, or so they might claim, only this time the data was miscalculated and the plans eventually "did not come off".
It was unlikely that RCB would rejig their batting order, especially after that KKR game, when the pair of AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli stitched a 100-run partnership, courtesy an unbeaten 33-ball 73 from the South African. But it all boiled down to match-ups - leg- spinners, left-handers, and hence De Villiers at No.6.
From RCB's perspective, De Villiers has long struggled against leggies, with his average dropping to 35 and a strike rate of 133 against this variety. In IPL, he has been dismissed by leg-spinners 21 times at an average 26.3.
Moreover, RCB had recalled KXIP's strategy from their previous encounter, earlier this season when Murugan Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi attacked in tandem after the powerplay against leg-spin-susceptible batters Aaron Finch and De Villiers. And the pair had triumphed - Bishnoi dismissed Finch while Ashwin got the big one. The plan was the same for the Sharjah clash as well.
KXIP brought back Ashwin for the same reason. He dismissed Finch early in the innings and waited to get the big man to arrive, but in walked left-handed batsman Sundar at No.4. It is certainly a widely used ploy. Even CSK skipper MS Dhoni had used the same by promoting Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja in the season opener against Mumbai Indians, a move that successfully worked in their favour.
"We had a chat," Kohli explained at the presentation, "There was a message from outside about left hand-right hand [combination] and we had a discussion about it and we wanted to go ahead with it because they had two leggies (Ravi Bishnoi and M Ashwin) and that could have kept them out of the game."
But KXIP proved to be smarter. Ashwin remained in the attack for two more overs in a bid to trouble Kohli, who as well struggles against leg-spinners while introducing a sixth-bowling option in Glenn Maxwell, just like the previous game. The angling in deliveries from around the wicket restricted Sundar to just singles and twos before he went in for a desperate attempt to tee off, misreading a googly from Ashwin. Dube, another left-hander who had walked in at No.5, was kept silent in a similar manner.
The two promoted batsman added just 36 off 33 balls between themselves. Of those 33 balls, 12 were against Maxwell, against which the two managed only 14 runs. At the other end, the leg-spinners successfully held back Kohli from firing as he added only 24 runs off 23 balls between overs 7 and 15, without hitting a single boundary.
By the time De Villiers had arrived, RCB had 24 more deliveries to face in their innings. Even in the KKR game, De Villiers had struggled to 100 off 11 before displaying his class. But with RCB on 127 for four after 16 overs, they desperately needed him to fire from ball one against an attack that has leaked 13.30 runs per over in the death overs this season. The stage was set, or so Kohli imagined, but the two fell in a space of just two balls.
"Look sometimes decisions that you take don't come off," Kohli said in dismay at the end of the game. "This was one of those nights."
And it indeed was. Unlike the Maxwell strategy against the two lefties, RCB's ploy to disrupt Chris Gayle by holding back Sundar failed to work. Sundar, who has done exceptionally well for RCB in the powerplays with an economy rate of 4.54, was introduced in the ninth over when Gayle had stepped in. The T20 legend's strike rate drops to 114.5 against off-spinners in his illustrious IPL career. And Gayle did struggle against Sundar, managing only five runs off eight balls with three dots. But with the bowler erring in line and length, Gayle quickly captivated to fire two sixes in his third over. By the time he had returned for his final six, Gayle was well set, and hence even a delivery that could have kept him quiet at the crease, the veteran clobbered the same for two sixes.