Punjab's good bowling up front meant that they remained on top despite AB de Villiers's brilliant 89 . © BCCI

Punjab’s good bowling up front meant that they remained on top despite AB de Villiers’s brilliant 89 . © BCCI

Royal Challengers Bangalore were 7 for 1 in 2.1 overs against Kings XI Punjab in their Indian Premier League 2017 game at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore on Monday (April 10) when Vishnu Vinod pulled a short ball from Mohit Sharma from outside off-stump to the long-on fence.

With Mohit not being an express pacer, Glenn Maxwell, Punjab’s captain standing at mid-on, gestured to him that the plan was to bowl a little fuller to make the batsman play off the front foot and pierce a strong offside field.

The same strategy had helped Punjab keep Rising Pune Supergiant to 35 for 1 in the Power Play overs before restricting them to 163 for 6 in their first game of the season at the same venue three days back.

Vishnu took a single off the next ball and AB de Villiers, playing his first game of the season in place of Chris Gayle, knew what was on his way after Mohit bowled two dots at him. Right on the cue, a waiting de Villiers hit the last ball of that over, which was full, over extra cover for the first six of the match.

That, though, was the last boundary Punjab conceded for the next 23 balls. The dry period resulted in the wickets of Vishnu, who was caught at long-on trying to force the pace, and Kedar Jadhav, the man of the match in Bangalore’s 15-run win over Delhi Daredevils.

Jadhav’s wicket was beautifully set up by Varun Aaron in his first over for his new franchise against his old franchise, though Jadhav could consider himself unlucky to be at the wrong end of a poor decision.

Bowling the fifth over of the innings, Aaron, who later said he was looking forward to the challenge, followed the team’s ploy against both de Villiers and Jadhav for the first five balls. Then, he brought the square-leg in and sent fine-leg back. It must have made Jadhav believe that the final ball would possibly be fuller.

Instead, Aaron bowled an inducker with the length pulled back. Jadhav was late to react and was hit on the pads. The umpire raised his finger, though television replays suggested that the ball was going over the stumps.

By restricting Bangalore to 23 for 3 in six overs, the bowlers had won the first battle of the night. The team management deserves credit for having done its homework. Shane Watson, Bangalore’s captain and opener, had fallen to a left-arm spinner twice in his last three innings, and Axar Patel had got him out thrice earlier. So Axar was given the first over, which according to Maxwell was a “very late decision”. He struck with his final ball before returning to the attack only in the 11th over. He would go on to finish with figures of 4-0-12-1 and the player of the match award.

From the eighth till the 13th over, Punjab bowled just three bad balls – two overpitched on either side of the wicket (4 and 4) and one short (6). In other words, Bangalore were able to maximise just three of the 36 deliveries. In the game against Pune, Punjab had conceded just two fours and a six, and picked up two wickets in the same window.

Bangalore were 68 for 3 in 13 overs when Aaron returned for his third over. With de Villiers playing anchor, Mandeep Singh, who was facing Aaron for the first time in the match, had to create something. Having played 33 balls from spinners and medium pacers, he was taken aback by Aaron’s fast, short ball first up. A top-edge resulted in Wriddhiman Saha running backwards and then diving to his right almost near the boundary to take what will rank as one of the best catches in the tournament’s history. 

This early check – Bangalore hit just four fours and three sixes in the first 16 overs –meant even though de Villiers smashed 51 runs off his last 16 balls during his unbeaten 89 (46 balls), Punjab were hardly dented.

De Villiers had an 80-run stand in 6.5 overs with Stuart Binny as Bangalore posted 148 for 4. But by denying him more partnerships from the time he came to the crease in the second over, Punjab had gained control over a batting line-up that is dependent on a few players.

Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 58, and his partnerships with Manan Vohra and Maxwell, who hit the winning runs for the second consecutive match, gave Punjab an eight-wicket win with 33 balls to spare.

Outside of the 2014 edition where they won their first five matches, this is Punjab’s best start to an IPL campaign. Maxwell said Axar, Mohit and Sandeep Sharma would be the bowling leaders for Punjab. Producing the goods in two consecutive games on one of the smallest grounds in India must have boosted their confidence significantly.

“It’s been a great start for us. The bowlers obviously set that game up. They are absolutely outstanding. To keep that attack to 23 in the Power Play was an outstanding effort,” Maxwell said at the post-match presentation ceremony. “Apart from Varun Aaron, they (Punjab bowlers) are not express pace. They just seem to get something out of the wicket, whether there is something there for them (or not). It has been great for them to execute their skills on a small ground and to keep two teams underneath 170 is a great effort.”