THE ONLY time AB de Villiers looked ruffled on Tuesday night was at the very end. And he had his own teammates to blame for it. If anything, it resembled one of those dastardly home videos that make you cringe and giggle at the same time, or call it the grandest blooper in a series featuring ‘victory celebrations gone wrong on a cricket field’. For, when Yuzvendra Chahal and Sarfaraz Khan made a dash for the middle of the Chinnaswamy Stadium and leapt straight at de Villiers, knocking his helmet off in a whiplash motion, it was both funny and painful. AB even had a gash on his chin to show for it. But in many ways, the only ones hurting in Bangalore at that point were the Gujarat Lions outfit. Or probably AB had just left them numb and lifeless, bereft of all feelings.
The manic elation in the RCB camp though was justified. De Villiers had pulled one out of the hat for his team after all, yet again, with a masterful unbeaten 47-ball 79. At 29/5, chasing 159 and with Dhawal Kulkarni having sent every big name sans de Villiers back to the dug-out, Lions seemed to have more than one paw into the final. No team in IPL history had recovered from such a hole to win a match before.
It’s an oft-used cliché while commenting on a live cricket match. To say that the contest in question isn’t over till a particular batsman is still at the crease. With AB it’s a fact. Over the last few weeks, Virat Kohli has been the only topic that’s mattered with regards to RCB or maybe the IPL on the whole. But throughout, like always, he’s continued to maintain that he was still only second-best to his Bangalore teammate he so candidly and incessantly admires and adores. In the first playoff between the top two teams in IPL 9, AB gave Kohli enough reason to gush and jump about in the dug-out by playing one of the more remarkable come-from-behind innings the IPL has witnessed. If Chahal and Sarfaraz hadn’t gotten a head-start, it easily could have been Kohli delivering the ‘clothesline’ to AB once he was done producing another spell-binding exhibition of batting under pressure. For, the South African never made the enormity of the challenge in front of him even show, forget about it getting to him. The abundance of wickets lost meant that AB simply couldn’t get out but the increasing required run-rate meant that calculated risks still had to be attempted. And he did just that rather nonchalantly. He always seemed to know which ball deserved to be hit to the fence-which he did duly-and when it was prudent to simply push it into the outer reaches of the Chinnaswamy Stadium to steal a quick two. In between, AB and Iqbal Abdulla, who came to the fore as an able and more importantly composed ally, even played out two overs from Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo that went for seven in all. Shadab Jakati had bowled two shocking overs and gone for 29 runs. Suresh Raina still had to complete that quota. AB lay in wait for the Lions’ skipper to throw him the gauntlet. It first came in the form of Dwayne Smith, who had earlier been the singular reason for Gujarat making a match of it with the bat after their early collapse. His pace was best suited for AB to launch, which he did, taking him for 14 runs. At this point, with a drizzle in the air, RCB were 16 runs adrift of their DL score. The next over with 49 requiring of the last five, Raina went to Jakati. Checkmate Lions. AB and Abdulla took the left-arm spinner apart, taking him for 16 runs. AB started the next over from Praveen Kumar with a brutal strike over the deep mid-wicket fence before delicately reverse-sweeping an attempted yorker through the point region for four. Raina and his Lions just stood in shock, staring into the floodlights as if they didn’t know what had hit them.
KOHLI and Abdulla are no strangers. They might not have crossed paths too often in the last eight years. But back in 2008, when Kohli led India U-19 to World Cup glory to kick off his remarkable cricketing journey, Abdulla was pretty much his go-to man with the ball. Their careers might have gone in opposite directions from that point on, but when Kohli decided to throw his enforcer of yore the new-ball with Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch taking strike for the Lions, he kind of knew what he was doing. And to his credit, Abdulla showed his captain that he’s still got it, and that his trust is warranted by removing both the dangerous openers in his very first over. That Abdulla doesn’t turn the ball much is known around Indian domestic circles. But often players of the T20 era end up getting fed with too much information, at times for their own disservice, and it looked like McCullum and Finch never expected the left-arm spinner to spin the ball past their bats. Or so it seemed as they both perished playing against the turn, and getting leading edges to different ends of the Chinnaswamy Stadium with McCullum holing out at long-off and Finch being caught at slip. Just like that, Abdulla had turned the clock back for Kohli and delivered the first two strikes for his team. Those weren’t the only crucial blows he struck during the day, as he was equally crucial during the run-chase, remaining unbeaten on 33 off 25, and striking three consecutive fours off Bravo to pretty much seal the game in the 18th over of the match.
For years, Kulkarni has made enough noise with his impressive bowling skills but hardly created much traction for himself. On Tuesday under the IPL’s glaring spotlight, he finally made a huge statement. It took him only 10 minutes to do so as he ran through RCB’s much-vaunted top-order. In his first over, he dismissed Kohli for a duck-which in itself should have made him the talking-point of world cricket-but then also pinged Gayle on the helmet with a terrific bouncer. In his next over, he removed the now cautious and ruffled Gayle, who didn’t dare stretch on to the front-foot and was bowled, and also added KL Rahul to his kitty off the next ball. At one point his figures read 4/6. But unfortunately, not for the first time, Kulkarni didn’t quite finish as the highlight of the evening. Instead as the match drew to a close, he lay prone in front of the RCB dug-out trying in vain to stop one of Abdulla’s three boundaries. By then he and his team had been silenced for good and the only thing reverberating around Chinnaswamy were manic chants of ABD, ABD.