Royal Challengers Bangalore went into the first Qualifier on a roll, having won their previous four games in a row, this included a 144-run thrashing of Gujarat Lions. In that sense, they had the upper hand against Suresh Raina's men in Tuesday's battle. But, Lions were undoubtedly going to come hard at Bangalore as a win would have taken them straight into the finals. Also, Lions began the qualifier as the league topper, so they ought to consider themselves superior. As things turned out, the Lions fought hard and were in a position to clinch the game, but Bangalore yet again came back from a tense situations to take the honours.
Without doubt, it was AB de Villiers, who was the hero of the game. In the previous matches, skipper Virat Kohli had played stellar knocks to steer the team to wins. There was already a worry that they could flounder in case Kohli fell early. The situation turned into a reality at Bangalore as, chasing 159, crumbled to 29 for 5, with their skipper gone for a duck while the other big guns like Chris Gayle and Shane Watson also failed. But, as long as de Villiers was at the crease, there was hope for Bangalore. The South African legend did not let Kohli and the team down.
What was most impressive about de Villiers' knock at Bangalore was the fact that he read the conditions brilliantly, and had the patience to play himself in. He went for his boundaries only when he was in an assured zone. It was the kind of knock that once again reiterated what a versatile batsman he is. Towards the end of the innings, de Villiers had found his zone, and Bangalore cantered towards a win. But, the victory might not have been possible with unexpected support from Iqbal Abdulla, who made a doughty 33 not out, and gave de Villiers company till the end.
Earlier, the left-arm spinner played a crucial role with the ball too. With the surface gripping, Kohli made the smart move of opening with Abdulla, and the change worked as Lions' openers were caught off guard. Both Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch fell to the guile of Abdulla, and that was a big blow for the visitors. Another short-ball dismissal for Raina left Lions reeling at 9 for 3. With Dwayne Smith have swapped places with Finch, Lions would have been desperate for him to fire. And, he displayed his versatility by cracking 73 under adverse conditions. Thanks to Smith, Lions finished with a challenging total in spite of Watson's four-for.
Lions took the momentum they gained with the bat into the field as well. With the pitch offering assistance, their bowlers became that much more dangerous. Dhawal Kulkarni was absolutely brilliant as he knocked out Gayle, Kohli, Lokesh Rahul and Sachin Baby, all of whom have made crucial contributions in the series. Ravindra Jadeja then chipped in with the crucial wickets of Shane Watson and Stuart Binny. At one stage, Bangalore were in total trouble at 68 for 6. Lions would be disappointed that they had a foot in the final, but could not get in. That said, no praise is too high for de Villiers.
--By A Cricket Analyst v