SRH and RCB faced off for the first eliminator of the season. It has been a diametrically opposite journey for these 2 sides through the league stages. RCB began well and reached its peak when they decimated KKR for a paltry 84 runs in their 10th league match. But from there on, it has been a downward slide for Kohli’s men. They have lost their last 4 league matches to just creeping into the playoffs by edging out KKR in NRR. The momentum was not with them and that was visible from the 4 erratic team changes they made in the eliminator. It was prominent that they were searching for the right combination coming into the eliminator.
SRH, on the other hand, blew hot and cold throughout the season. Their lowest point in the season came in their 11th league match, where KXIP defended a score of 126 successfully against them. From then on, there has been a sudden turnaround as they beat DC, RCB, and MI in 3 consecutive matches to storm into the playoffs. Saha’s introduction in place of Bairstow had given SRH the freedom to play the vastly underrated Jason Holder and the West Indian had changed matches on his own. Saha’s brilliance at the top of the order had also given Warner the freedom to attack in the powerplay. In short, all their pieces in the jigsaw seem to have fallen in the right place before the playoffs.
SRH won the toss and chose to field. However, they were dealt with a massive blow even before the match as the in-form Saha had to sit out because of injury concerns. SRH had a like-for-like replacement in Goswami and he was drafted into the playing 11. RCB went in with one extra batsman and 4 spinners. The pitch looked to be dry and it looked to be a right move at the outset.
Virat opened the batting with Paddikal- a move that clearly indicated that RCB was trying to change things around for a shift in fortune. Virat looked cautious in his brief stay at the crease before he was strangled down the legside by a Jason Holder length ball. The underrated West Indian allrounder continued to make dents in the RCB batting lineup, as he dismissed Paddikal caught at square leg in the very next over to set RCB back in the powerplay.
Finch and ABD were left to do the rebuilding work and to be honest, it is extremely difficult to rebuild an inning against the brilliance of Rashid Khan. The continuous barrage of googlies from Rashid ensured that neither of Finch and ABD got room outside off stump to exploit the short offside boundary. Rashid and Nadeem bowled in tandem and exploited the slowness of the wicket to the fullest as the pressure of dot balls lead Finch and Moeen to play mindless shots and lose their wickets.
ABD was once again the lone warrior for RCB as he coupled with the likes of Shivam Dube and Washington Sundar to take RCB to a competitive score. Although the genius South African managed to score a half-century, the pace of the inning was much slower than he wanted it to be and that robbed his team from gathering any momentum.
Zaheer Khan’s yorker to Steve Waugh in the ICC Champions Trophy 2000 has been talked about for the next 2 decades. It officially marked the initiation of Zaheer’s career in international cricket and the same can be said about Natarjan’s yorker to ABD tonight. Natarajan has specialized as a death bowler this season and time and again he has delivered the crunch overs for SRH. However, his yorker to castle ABD this match was one for the ages and would be one of the marquee moments in this year’s IPL. After AB’s dismissal RCB scrambled to a score of 131, that looked just under-par even on a sluggish surface.
SRH came out to bat with positive intent but missed Saha terribly at the top. Shreevats Goswami was dismissed early by a bumper from Siraj and Warner had to shift to his reclusive mode of batting yet again. However, with a required run-rate of just 6.5, Warner’s restrained batting did not affect the required scoring rate much. Just when it seemed like SRH was going to meander along to 42-45 in their powerplay with just the loss of 1 wicket, Siraj removed Warner.
To be honest, I felt, the third umpire’s decision to declare Warner out, was indeed brave. There was not enough evidence to overturn the decision clearly and there was enough doubt whether the ball touched the pad or the gloves at the point of impact. It was one of those decisions, that could have raised a lot of eyebrows had SRH gone on to lose the match.
The real game-changer for RCB was their spin twins Chahal and Zampa. Zampa has improved quite a lot in terms of accuracy in line and length. It was indeed commendable to concede just 4 runs off his first 2 overs against decent players of spin like Manish and Williamson. In fact, the spin strangulation by Chahal and Zampa yielded 2 valuable wickets for RCB in the middle overs in the form of Pandey and Garg.
The required rate was threatening to cross 8 when the man of the hour came to the fore. Williamson is one such player, who is loved all around the world. Even if he is in your opposition, you feel happy when he scores runs. Tonight, he showed the value, he brings to the table and why SRH has preferred him to be in the playing 11 over Johny Bairstow.
Just when Chahal and Zampa were spinning their cobwebs around the SRH batting, Williamson decided to take matters into his own hands. He ensured that the dot ball percentage reduced as he successfully employed the drop-and-run technique. With singles and doubles being scored off every ball, Virat pulled deep square leg and midwicket into the circle. Williamson sensed the opportunity and played 2 risk-free slog sweeps against 2 googlies from Chahal and Zampa to bring down the scoring rate.
Jason Holder is an underrated player and his exploits in red-ball cricket with the bat is something, that deserves more limelight. In fact, a year ago, Holder himself came up in the press to state that he is perfectly capable to bat in the top 5, but his bowling workload is preventing him from doing that. Tonight, he played with a matured head and turned the strike over to Williamson to ensure that RCB did not pull off a miracle.
Williamson, on the other hand, played copybook cricket shots to guide his team home with a chanceless half-century. Holder’s cover drives in the final over ensured that Kane’s inning did not go in vain as SRH went past RCB to the second qualifier of the season. With momentum, in their favor, SRH might be the favorites heading into the clash against an off-form DC in a couple of days.