Virat Kohli is a calculating batsman. It shows in the way he plays pure cricketing shots and maximises their impact by picking gaps. He was furious at himself after scoring 80 in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s victory two days ago because he thought he should have used 10 balls fewer. A man so meticulous insisted he never thought he would score a hundred today in their match against Gujarat Lions. But he did; his first ever in T20 cricket, achieved by hitting a wide yorker for four off the final ball of the innings. Thereafter, he wouldn’t have thought his team would lose. But they did, after putting 180 on the board – a total Kohli thought was 25 runs above par.
There are not many batsmen who can go toe-to-toe with the Royal Challengers captain. He averages 110 and strikes at 141 in Twenty20s this year. So Lions had to work together, and work as perfectly as possible. The Rajkot pitch was slow and strokeplay wasn’t particularly easy. With the new ball, you can always bank on runs though. Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith, who replaced Dale Steyn – belted 72 runs in the Powerplay a record for this season to provide a fine start to the chase.
Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik built a sensible half-century stand – using the long boundaries at the SCA stadium to scamper twos as often as possible to keep the asking rate in check. Karthik, who was 28 off 26 when that partnership was broken in the 16th over, accelerated to 50 off 39 balls and was unbeaten when the winning runs were struck with three balls to spare.
Royal Challengers had the chance to remove Karthik in the 18th over, Kane Richardson deceived the him with a slower ball but was unable to hold on to the return catch. An equation of 26 off 16 balls could have been taxing on a new batsman. As such, the set batsman Karthk kept finding the gaps, a fresh Ravindra Jadeja made sure the twos continued coming and the chasing team won for a 16th time in 19 IPL matches this year.
After opting to bat, Royal Challengers lost Shane Watson early when he skied an offcutter from Dhawal Kulkarni to Jadeja running in from sweeper cover. But Kohli and de Villiers put up their fifth fifty-plus stand in six innings to regain the advantage.
Kohli was sublime on the drive, especially through the covers where he found 30 runs. He was equally adept with the flick through midwicket 37 runs came from that region. De Villiers, much like the sell-out crowd, was quite content to watch. The duo put on 51 off 36, but the show came to a premature end when de Villiers chipped an innocuous delivery from legspinner Pravin Tambe to short cover.
The tempo of the innings began to falter. KL Rahul struggled for timing and his captain had sprained his ankle while turning for a second run. But Kohli has said he trains so that fitness issues do not affect his performance. At the World T20, after a phenomenal innings to beat Australia in the league stage he said, “I like to play for when I’m tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I’m on zero.” Today after an innings of 100 not out off only 63 balls, he said “that was where fitness counts,” said Kohli at the innings break, “The other muscles took over.”
The last four overs yielded 65 runs for Royal Challengers, as Rahul recovered from a slow start to post 51 off 35 balls, with three sixes. Kohli belted Bravo for six, four and four off the last three legal deliveries of the innings to register his maiden T20 hundred and lift Royal Challengers to 180.
Smith responded with 32 off 21, including three fours and two sixes, McCullum pillaged 25 runs off the sixth over and Lions had dragged the required rate down to 7.78. South African chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi did well to keep Royal Challengers’ hopes up with his 4-0-21-1, but the his team-mates conceded 158 runs in 16 overs.