Going into the eliminator clash against Rajasthan Royals, cricket pundits had given Royal Challengers Bangalore a slight edge over their opponents. And, on Wednesday at Pune, the Virat Kohli-led side proved why they are rated amongst the most dangerous sides in the IPL. Even though two of their star players failed, batting first, they had enough firepower to set up a match-winning total. They were impressive with the ball as well, although it must be said that the pitch and the back up of a total helped them immensely. Rajasthan, on the other hand, were ragged. They had just managed to scrape into the top four, and their uninspiring exhibition on Wednesday was reiterative of the fact that they weren't in the right frame of mind.
Looking back at the match, it was one partnership that made the massive difference to the end result. Batting first, Bangalore had lost Chris Gayle and Kohli, their two big men, rather early. Although Gayle hung around for a while, he couldn't get his timing completely right. And when the likes of Gayle and Kohli struggle, you can be assured that the pitch is a tough one to bat on. This is all the more reason why AB de Villiers and Mandeep Singh deserve credit for their batting performance. They gauged the surface very well and, in the end, put up a score that would be way beyond Rajasthan's reach.
The most impressive aspect of de Villiers and Mandeep was that they did not go after the bowling right away. In fact, initially, they were ready to play a few quiet overs even though this was a T20 encounter. But, once they got their eye in, both shifted gears incredibly. The partnership was another reminder of the fact that, sometimes, even in T20, it is important to get your eye in. While a rollicking knock from de Villiers was on expected lines, Mandeep's show in a knockout game would please the team no end. Once they had a daunting score on the board, Bangalore were always favourites. But, credit to their bowlers for not taking it easy. S. Aravind and Harshal Patel were particularly praiseworthy.
For a team that began the tournament with five successive wins, the manner in which Rajasthan bowed out was a dampener. But, to put things into perspective, this was only a pale shadow of the side that had won those back to back matches. In fact, in the second half of the tournament, they had hit an equally lengthy losing spree. Had they lost to Kolkata Knight Riders in the last league encounter, they would have been ousted of the tournament. But, a Shane Watson special saw them through. The lack of confidence though was clearly visible in the manner that Rajasthan batted, bowled and even fielded in the match. They just did not seem tuned in.
Rajasthan's bowling had been disappointing going into the eliminator, and nothing changed against Bangalore. James Faulkner has not proved to be the same force for the franchise he has been over the years. This aspect came to haunt the team big time in the qualifier as de Villiers and Mandeep went berserk. Chris Morris has been among their better bowlers in the event, but he too had an off day, which only made matters worse. Rajasthan have been struggling in the spin department as well, and Ankit Sharma did not do much to change that. Rajasthan still had a chance if Watson and Ajinkya Rahane found their groove. It wasn't to be and, in the end, it would be fair to say the better side progressed.
--By A Cricket Analyst