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Royals Challengers Bangalore v Rajasthan Royals
Sunday 15th April
Bengaluru

When Royals fans of both persuasions took their seats at the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium and settled down to watch the Challengers take on Rajasthan in Match 11 of IPL 2018, they had little idea of the impending batting fireworks that were about to ignite the tournament. Virat Kohli won the toss and asked opposing skipper Jinks Rahane to take first knock, as has become customary in T20 cricket. The stats show that the team batting second win more often than not – was this to become just such an occasion?

Opening the batting again for the Royals was the Rahane / Short combo. Traditionally Ajinkya starts off relatively slowly and then accelerates – and D’Arcy has been struggling for runs of late – but only one run off the first Sundar over was still worrisome. Woakes bowled the second over and Rahane scored the first boundary of the innings off the second legitimate ball of the over. With Short struggling to time the ball, his skipper seemed to take it on himself to attack the RCB bowlers, and he scored a ten off two deliveries in Sundar’s second over. 22 for no wicket from the first three overs was solid – but by no means spectacular – certainly no indication of what was to come…

Yadav bowled the fourth over – 11 runs came from it. Then the ball was tossed to Chahal for over 5 and Rahane continued to bat with confidence, taking his score to 31. When Short scored his first boundary off the last ball, the Royals were 43 without loss and apparently building a solid foundation for a big total. However, Rahane succumbed to Chris Woakes for 36 in over six – holing out to long on one run short of a 50 opening partnership. Short soon followed his skipper back to the dug out when he was caught behind for 11 off 17 balls.

With seven overs gone, Rajasthan were 53 for 2 – but they had two big hitters at the crease. If Sanju Samson or Ben Stokes could get their eye in, then a big total was still on the cards. Big Ben initially seemed to be trying to force the issue a little too much – struggling to pick up the pace on what was a slow pitch in RCB’s previous fixture. The first two balls he faced were both dots, and they were followed by some scuttled singles. Fortunately, at the other end Sanju Samson was carrying on the form he showed in the first two matches. Fans in the stands needed to be on the lookout as he started to pepper them with sixes.

Big Ben then joined the party, hitting Umesh for 4. At the end of the 11th over the Royals were 82 for 2 and the wheels off their innings were starting to grind into action. The next few overs would be crucial – could they start to accelerate or would they stutter under the pressure of accurate RCB bowling? Stokes was determined it would be the latter scenario – hitting Khejroliya for a blistering four then a towering 6. Royals fans could be forgiven for thinking that the Englishman was about to take the game away from RCB, however the cricketing gods had other ideas. Again England’s finest all rounder fell when seeming well set – this time dragging the ball onto his stumps.

Another Englishman, Jos Buttler, came in to replace Big Ben – and again Jos got off the mark with four by employing a reverse sweep – such confidence. At the end of over 13 the Royals were 112 for 3 and would probably have settled for a total around 180 – which was considered par on this track.

Negi bowled the 14th over – and the equilibrium of the game seemed to change with a towering Samson six over midwicket and an edged four by Buttler down to third man. Both batsmen were now starting to find the boundary one way or another – and the RCB bowlers were starting to look weary. As the Buttler edge raced for four, Challengers skipper Kohli had his head in his hands… and fans were about to see this body language more and more as the innings progressed.

Umesh bowled the 15th over – and it was fantastic – if you were a Rajasthan fan. Samsun scored 8 runs from the first ball (because a wide was followed by a no ball which was followed by a free hit which went for 6!) All in all 13 runs were taken from the tall Indian – unlucky for him.

With four overs to go and the Royals 142 for 3, the projected score was 174 – if they scored at eight an over. However, Samson when he has his eye in wouldn’t get out of bed for eight an over, as he was about to prove. In over 16 he scored a massive 6 and brought up his 50. Buttler also found the stand and that set of six deliveries was dispatched for 15.

Over 17 was bowled by Khejroliya – more Samson sixes, these ones straight down the ground – and it went for 16. Over 18 was allocated to Chris Woakes and he soon snaffled his England team mate Jos Buttler. Jos had scored 23 runs from 14 – a very useful cameo. Rahul Tripathi came to the crease and he faced a dilemma. Should he push ones and give well-set Sanju the strike? Or should he go for broke himself and look to hit maximums? Sensibly he opted for the former, at least to begin with. A single for Tripathi followed by another majestic straight six from Samson – intelligent and devastating cricket. Arguably the best shot of Samson’s innings came off the last ball of the Woakes over. A superb late glance down to third man for four – a purist’s delight.

Two overs to go and the Royals had already passed the par total. They were now on 190 and even the RCB fans were enjoying the batting delights on offer. 48 runs had been scored from the last three overs, but Samson and Tripathi weren’t finished yet. They surpassed Rajasthan’s highest ever total against RCB in the 19th over. With the help of another free hit Samson hit another straight six – talk about picking low hanging fruit. What were the RCB bowlers thinking giving the ferocious Royals batsman extra deliveries to dispatch? Another six from the penultimate ball of the match – he was seeing the leather like a large grapefruit. 25 runs came from the last over and the Royals finished on 217 for 4, Sanju contributing an amazing 92 of them from 45 deliveries. As he walked in he was given the Orange cap – the top scorer in the tournament. It was a richly deserved accolade.

Between innings, cricket historians confirmed the size of the challenge facing RCB. They would need to break IPL records to surpass the Rajasthan total – achieving 218 would be the highest successful run chase in IPL history.

McCullum and De Kock strode out to the crease like they meant business. However, McCullum soon had to stride back. Despite hitting the ball straight out of the screws in the first over, it went like a bullet to Stokes in the deep who plucked the ball out of the air like it was a dolly. A marvellous catch to rock the RCB innings before it had really got started. However, McCullum’s dismissal only served to bring Indian Superstar Virat Kohli to the crease – and he looked intent on leading his team to a spectacular victory. By the end of the powerplay six overs, RCB were on 64 and Kohli had reached 36 off just 19 deliveries. He was looking on fine form and was being ably supported by de Kock at the other end who was on 23 from 14 balls. The run chase was very much on.

Even when De Kock tried to hit Short for 6 and instead sent the ball into Unadkat’s safe hands, RCB were still on track. More wickets and more tight bowling from the Rajasthan attack was needed. AB De Villiers had the skillset to assist Kohli in achieving the imposing total – and soon he proved it with a towering six off Sheyas. A missed stumping and a run out opportunity that went begging soon afterwards and Royals fans were starting to sweat…

With the score 101 for 2 at the ten overs mark and Kohli dispatching the ball to all parts of the ground, RCB were looking in the box seat, but then a crucial moment that swung the game. Kohli sends the ball into Short’s hands at deep midwicket off the bowling at Gopal and the Royal Challengers innings was holed beneath the waterline.

The RCB batsmen continued to plug away, but they steadily fell behind the run rate and wickets continued to fall. AB de Villiers went for 20 off 18 – caught by Unadkat off the bowling of Gopal. Negi caught behind for 3, deceived by the Royals other Big Ben, Mr Laughlin.

With two overs to go, the home team needed 48 runs from 12 deliveries and the game was as good as over. Stokes bowled Sundar in the 19th over and Laughlin sealed the deal in the 20th over – RCB ended 20 runs short of victory.

It was a comprehensive and superb win for Rajasthan. Magnificent batting, especially from the Mighty Samson, and sensible composed bowling even when Kohli was going great guns won the day. There was no sense of panic from the Royals in the field, which isn’t surprising with Captain Cool leading them in the field.

Played three – won two is what is says in the scorebook – but the fact of the matter is that the Royals victories have been down to fantastic cricket, and we now have some excellent momentum to carry us forward into the rest of the tournament.

Halla Bol!

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