Master back at work
The first ball that he faced clipped the outside edge. Harry Gurney bowled a slower one and Virat Kohli played a little away from his body. That was the arid part of the whole sequence. The adjustment had the aesthetic portion; soft hands that Kohli offered at the last moment. It ensured that the ball didn’t carry to the slip.
The Eden Gardens pitch was a little sluggish to begin with. It was about seeing off the first seven-eight overs. Timing-wise, Kohli’s batting was a little inconsistent during this period. He was ready to bide his time at the crease, ignoring the odd edges and occasional mishits. He knew that once he was settled, he would run away with the game.
Kuldeep Yadav came and tossed one up to his national team captain. That was the moment when Kohli broke the shackles. He stepped out and played a picture perfect straight drive. Yadav tossed it up again, this time a little wide outside the off stump. The cover drive was so sweetly timed that sweeper cover could hardly move. The master was at work.
Moeen Ali played a brilliant hand. He outscored Kohli during their association in the middle. Also, Ali was the reason why Royal Challengers Bangalore moved to fifth gear after a conservative start. But we would come to Ali’s knock later.
The second half of Kohli’s innings was a high-octane symphony. Kohli’s first fifty came off 40 balls, with four fours and a six. His second fifty took only 17 deliveries and it had five fours and three sixes. A square drive off Gurney was poetry in motion. Before that, he had shuffled across and whipped the left-arm seamer to the long leg boundary. Then, Kohli decided to take the aerial route and hit a length ball from Gurney straight to the sight screen.
The Royal Challengers skipper had been toying with the Kolkata Knight Riders bowling. A short-arm pull against Sunil Narine oozed precision. As the final over of the RCB innings started, Kohli was batting on 95. He took a single in the first ball amid the collective hush from about 60,000 fans. Marcus Stoinis took the suspense deep, as he kept strike for the next three balls, hitting a six and a four, before taking a single. Kohli was a tad reluctant to go for the second and Stoinis broke into a smile. Gurney attempted a yorker but missed his length and Kohli flicked it towards deep backward square. Yadav couldn’t stop it and Kohli had his hundred.
Ali plays a gem
Without AB de Villiers, indisposed, Royal Challengers had been short on batting depth and class in the middle-order. On Friday, Ali filled the void. The visitors were going at a rate of below seven runs per over when the left-hander walked in. After his half-century against Mumbai Indians in the last game, it was a little odd that he came at No. 4 behind Akshdeep Nath. Ali started off with a six against Yadav. The chinaman bowler hasn’t been his usual self in this IPL. For some reason, he is using the wrong’un sparingly. Ali targeted him. Yadav’s last over was when RCB’s run rate skyrocketed. The first ball went for a four followed by a six, when Ali moved across and slog-swept. Another four and a six followed. Finally, in the last ball of the over, Yadav decided to go around the wicket and it worked. Ali was holed out to long-on after scoring 66 off 28 balls. His 90-run partnership with Kohli took the game away from the hosts.
Rana and Russell’s fight
Knight Riders had laboured to 79/4 after 11.5 overs, when Andre Russell made his appearance. If anyone could have turned the tide from there, it was the big Jamaican. Russell warmed up with a six off Yuzvendra Chahal. On 12, he got a reprieve. Then, the mayhem began. Three consecutive sixes against Chahal put the pressure back on the opponents. Rana, too, was a playing a fantastic innings at the other end. The steady climb threatened to pull off an upset. At Chinnaswamy, RCB couldn’t defend 205 against KKR. A victory target of 214 at Eden Gardens bordered on the improbable, Russell’s pyrotechnics notwithstanding. Ali bowled the final over, with 24 runs to defend. He gave away 13 runs and Royal Challengers won. But even after posting a humongous total it wasn’t a cakewalk, thanks to Russell’s 65 off 25 balls and Rana’s 85 not out in 46 deliveries.