Between them, Umesh Yadav and AB de Villiers translated Kings XI Punjab’s worst nightmare into chilling reality on Friday the 13th at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
In front of a typically raucous audience of red and black, Royal Challengers Bangalore bounced back, somewhat nervily, from their opening-game loss to Kolkata Knight Riders, just about shading the big moments to complete a four-wicket victory for their first points of the Indian Premier League 2018.
Umesh blew a promising Punjab start to shreds with three wickets in his second over on his way to 3 for 23, while de Villiers weathered a mid-innings slump with an array of magical strokes during a 36-ball 57. There still was some work to be done for the unchanged Bangalore side with 10 needed off 11, and Mandeep Singh’s needless run-out added to the late drama. But Washington Sundar and Chris Woakes saw them home, relief and delight jostling for bragging rights in the home camp.
After bowling Punjab out for 155 in the final over, Bangalore alternately breezed and stuttered before eventually pulling the fat out of the fire, reaching 159 for 6 with three deliveries to spare.
In his home first match in Bangalore colours at the same venue that he spectacularly lit up a decade back, Brendon McCullum fell to the second ball of the chase, slicing Axar Patel to point. Having looked a little rusty in the opener, Virat Kohli immediately hit his stride with three crunchy fours until Mujeeb ur Rahman bemused him with a googly that the skipper simply failed to fathom. The ball pitched well outside off at a teasing length, drawing an expansive cover-drive. Kohli’s look was equal shock, equal disgust as the ball snaked through the massive gate and pegged middle pole back.
By now, the ball was starting to grip the surface, but the excellence of Quinton de Kock and the brilliance of de Villiers meant Bangalore had no real cause for alarm. The two South Africans chugged along merrily, picking 16 off Mohit Sharma’s first over, to keep the chase well under control when R Ashwin threatened a twist with successive strikes in his final over.
Having smoked 45 off 34, de Kock walked past an off-break to lose his off-stump, while Sarfaraz Khan dabbed a leg-break to slip, leaving Bangalore in genuine strife at 87 for 4. 69 were needed in 51, far from impossible with Mr 360 degrees still around and Punjab rapidly running out of spin options. All it needed was calm heads and one good over. De Villiers and Mandeep provided the former, and the latter inevitably ensued, ironically off the bowling of the boy-man who had kept Punjab in the hunt.
Mujeeb’s first two overs had gone for only three, and his three-over spell for 10, but he was plundered for 19 off his final over, the 17th of the innings. That brought the equation down from 41 off 24 to 22 off 18. De Villiers had the capacity crowd eating out his hand with another fabulous half-century while Mandeep was less visible, but no less crucial, to the stand of 59 that drew the finish line tantalisingly close. Washington then completed the redemption song in style.
Earlier in the night, after reiterating his faith in the bowling unit which had had an off-night at the Eden Gardens, Kohli saw his vote of confidence pay rich dividend despite a horror first over from Woakes. Two gigantic sixes from Rahul, the first on the up over cover an absolute peach, studded a 16-run over but Bangalore pulled things back beautifully once Umesh got into the act.
Even against Kolkata, Umesh had been Bangalore’s best bowler, working up a good head of steam and peppering the batsmen with well-directed short stuff. Here, he mixed his lengths up beautifully and bowled furiously again, ending Mayank Agarwal’s adventurism through an ill-advised drive to a fullish delivery gobbled smartly up by de Kock to his right.
The two Karnataka boys had put on 32 in just 19 deliveries, but Umesh was just getting started. He showed his national captain what he had missed by not playing him at all during the tour of South Africa with two further strikes in his next five deliveries. In his first appearance for a record seventh IPL franchise, Aaron Finch was beaten for pace by an inducker that caught him in front first ball. Yuvraj Singh barely survived a well-conceived trap –deep backward square-leg was brought in 10 yards and the batsman’s pull just cleared the fielder – but was sent packing next ball, an express delivery that crashed through his defences. It was tremendous bowling against a quality line-up. 3 for 4 in six deliveries had ripped the heart out of the Punjab batting.
Rahul, forced to play within himself given the carnage at the other end, and Karun Nair rebuilt with circumspection, though they didn’t miss a chance to put the loose ones away. To Bangalore’s credit, there weren’t too many easy offerings. Umesh was the clear lynchpin, but he didn’t plug away without support. Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington, the two spinners, came into their own after the forgettable Kolkata outing, while Kulwant Khejroliya’s left-arm over offered both a different angle and not inconsiderable pace for Kohli to work with.
Punjab seemed to have weathered the storm and set themselves up nicely by rallying to 94 for 3 on the back of a 58-run stand between hometown heroes Rahul and Nair – the Bangalore crowd applauded the sons of the soil, but not with any great gusto – when Washington’s quicker one defeated Rahul’s hoick and elicited a catch to point. Khejroliya got through Nair in the next over and suddenly, Punjab were left scrambling to ensure they weren’t bowled out with plenty of overs to spare.
Ashwin (33 off 21) played a neat cameo down the order, headlined by an atypical clattered six over Chahal’s head off a wide leg-break, to haul his team past 150 and give his versatile spin attack a sniff. On another night, it might have been enough. But with de Villiers in the mood, it was a couple of blows too few.