IPL 2022: Punjab make light work of big chase

Anuj Rawat dropped the catch and the match. He had it covered at deep extra cover, as Odean Smith mistimed a swat off Harshal Patel. But the ball popped out. Smith went on to score a match-winning 25 not out off eight balls.

Just about 10 minutes earlier, Rawat had taken a blinder to dismiss Liam Livingstone but squandered an easier opportunity. Cricket can be cruel at times. Given that Smith and Shahrukh Khan were Punjab Kings’ last big-hitting pair, the former’s wicket in the 17th over probably would have sealed the deal for Royal Challengers Bangalore. They lost the game instead, failing to defend 205.

Punjab’s resolve

When Mohammed Siraj dismissed the dangerous-looking Bhanuka Rajapaksa (43, 22 balls) and broke into a ‘Siuuu’, and trapped U-19 World Cup final hero Raj Bawa leg-before next ball, it felt like it was RCB’s game to lose. Livingstone, for whom Punjab had broken the bank at the auction, was still at the crease, as was Shahrukh. But Punjab were up against scoreboard pressure. Livingstone’s dismissal notwithstanding, they refused to throw in the towel. From a gung-ho 71-run opening partnership between Mayank Agarwal and Shikhar Dhawan to Rajapaksa’s middle-overs pyrotechnics and cool finishing from Shahrukh and Smith, Punjab’s resolve shone through, which trumped a classy RCB partnership between Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli. Punjab won by five wickets with six balls remaining.

Classy partnership

The scoreboard says du Plessis made a 57-ball 88, including three fours and seven sixes. It says Dinesh Karthik’s 14-ball 32 not out took RCB past 200. Somewhere in between, it puts Virat Kohli’s numbers – 41 not out off 29 deliveries, with a four and a couple of sixes. The RCB innings, though, presented a case for looking beyond the hard numbers.

Without Kohli, the unshackling of du Plessis probably wouldn’t have happened. Without the 118-run (61 balls) second-wicket partnership between the two, Karthik wouldn’t have had the platform for his merry hitting at the death. Du Plessis’ contribution in the partnership was 75 runs, a direct result of the ex-skipper taking the pressure off his successor and helping him flourish.

Du Plessis was batting on 13 off 22 balls when Kohli joined him at the crease. After seven overs, RCB were 50/1. The South African had had a reprieve on seven, Shahrukh dropping him at mid-wicket off Smith. He was struggling to find the boundaries, while Rahul Chahar was getting into the groove. The leg-spinner was unlucky not to castle du Plessis, as a dipper evaded an attempted slog-sweep and missed the bails by a whisker.

Getting bogged down against spinners has been Kohli’s recent batting problem in shorter formats. Last year, his strike rate against spin in the IPL was below 108. But here, he took the attack to the opposition, dancing down the track to Harpreet Brar and clearing the long-on boundary. Kohli didn’t want the young spinner to carry the confidence of a dot ball that preceded the six. However, big hitting wasn’t his go-to approach. The big outfield at DY Patil Stadium allowed the batsmen to run twos and Kohli pushed his partner to convert a lot of singles into braces. After a relatively subdued period with the Indian team, thanks to the turn of events post the T20 World Cup last year, he also got his expressions back.

When du Plessis made room and freed his arms to hit Livingstone for a six over long-on, Kohli punched the air. The shot unfettered the new captain, who laid into Smith in the next over, collecting a four and back-to-back sixes off the fast bowler. Kohli, the leading man in the partnership until then, readily decided to play second fiddle. Despite his superstar status, he has always been a great team player.

The classy duo never looked back, du Plessis steadily upping the ante and his partner playing around him. It was partnership-batting at its best. Finally, when Shahrukh somewhat atoned his earlier mistake with a fine diving catch to dismiss du Plessis off Arshdeep Singh’s bowling, RCB were in total control. Karthik’s 360-degree batting provided further embellishment. But the way the game panned out, they still didn’t have enough.

Good start for Chahar

With the second wrist-spinner’s slot still vacant in the Indian team for the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year, this IPL is the testing ground for the aspirants. Chahar made an impressive start. On a placid pitch, he varied his pace to good effect and returned with 1/22 from four overs.

A new acquisition for Punjab, Chahar cleaned up Rawat in his first over, the ball dipping and skidding off the pitch. He teased du Plessis, while Kohli never tried to force the pace against him. Punjab captain Agarwal gave the leggie a three-over spell upfront, and when he came back in the 15th over, Chahar conceded only six runs.

He didn’t have much support, but Chahar would be happy with a good start, a day before his direct rival for a spot in the Indian team, Ravi Bishnoi, turns out for Lucknow Super Giants.

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