When AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli brought up their centuries in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s game against Gujarat Lions at M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday (May 14) to post a jaw-dropping 248 for 3, there was an inevitability about the result.
Not because it was the second-highest total in the Indian Premier League and no team chasing had overhauled anything more than 223 – in this age of the modern T20 chase no target is out of reach after all. But because the duo’s was a masterful, unstoppable display of T20 skill and control, which would require a very particular, very unlikely alignment of the stars to have an encore in the opposition’s innings.
“In T20, when two great players like that play an innings where they don’t even give you a chance – we could have batted better you could say – but when you’re chasing 248, people try and go for it and you lose wickets,” said Sitanshu Kotak, the Gujarat assistant coach, after their IPL record 144-run defeat.
Was he despondent? He didn’t look or sound it. The team might well have been hurting, but instead of the despondency of, say, a tightly contested last-ball one-run loss, there was only tired resignation because – shrug – what can you do when AB and Kohli are in full flow?
De Villiers and Kohli wrote the bowlers out of the picture for much of the innings. A six-hitting contest followed the match – as if 22 of those in one day weren’t enough for the audience – but anyone not paying attention would have been hard pressed to say if the batsmen were facing bowlers or bowling machines. Bangalore’s second-wicket combine made the bowlers that inconsequential.
“The key in a chase like 248 is the start,” said Dinesh Karthik, the Gujarat wicketkeeper who professed himself as having the best seat in the house to witness two “mind-boggling” and “brilliant” knocks. “We were straightaway two wickets down in the Power Play. From there you’re just trying. If you look to get going, you’re going to score runs, but if you don’t get going, you just shut shop … nothing that we did worked.”
Gujarat’s wasn’t all bad bowling, by far. Praveen Kumar found early swing and Dhawal Kulkarni bowled to plan, giving Chris Gayle no room to hit out and drying out runs in the Power Play overs. But on a surface where the ball turned more than it has all season, the spinners were taken to the cleaners.
“I think the bowlers did try. But some of the shots played were mind-boggling,” said Karthik. “AB was hitting sixes of the back foot. It’s not an easy thing to do. I know it looks pretty easy on TV but that was something really special from AB. To keep hitting back-foot sixes is not a joke.”
Shivil Kaushik, the chinaman bowler, went for 50 runs in three overs, punished for bowling short or providing width on the off-stump line. Unlike Ravindra Jadeja, he was unable to bowl at a good length and Kohli cleverly waited to step forward to him.
The Bangalore captain, who has spoken of the pains he takes to carefully pace his innings, took 39 balls to get to his half-century, and then just 14 more to reach his third hundred of the season. The last 25 balls he faced were all, incredibly, scoring shots. De Villiers, for his part, faced 12 dot balls on his way to a 52-ball 129 not out. It was a generation of T20 batting being defined: attacking, controlled, never wasteful. There were no lucky slogs here, no benefit from fluffed half-chances.
“I don’t mind playing run-a-ball for the first 20-25 balls because I know that I can get 40-45 runs in the next 15 balls. Nowadays I back myself to do that. Now I believe more in my ability to hit sixes or pick gaps for boundaries in the final overs,” Kohli told IPLT20.com later. “During the last match (against Mumbai Indians) I told Dan (Vettori, Bangalore’s head coach) that I felt like I could hit every ball of the first over from Tim Southee for a six. But I stopped myself because I don’t want to disrespect the sport. I want to build my innings in the same way every time I go in to bat. Sometimes I will get out, like I did in the last game. But as long as I know that I wasn’t getting ahead of myself, I am OK.”
“They really showed their class today,” said an admiring Chris Jordan. “They really went through the gears. When they needed to take a single they took a single, when it was time to go, they played. I don’t think they mishit a ball. Which was phenomenal really. They really set up the game for us bowlers to go out there and express ourselves and take wickets, which we did.”
So what of the bowlers? What does it take to bounce back from a thrashing like this?
“I think after a game like this, it’s good to have a five-day break,” said Karthik. “You need two days to just feel the game and forget it and then move on. In five days’ time, we would come back as better players … If we had to come back to play tomorrow or day after, you would see the backlash.”
But it is more than a question of a temporary ego bashing. De Villiers and Kohli wrote the bowlers out of the picture for much of the innings. A six-hitting contest followed the match – as if 22 of those in one day weren’t enough for the audience – but anyone not paying attention would have been hard pressed to say if the batsmen were facing bowlers or bowling machines. Bangalore’s second-wicket combine made the bowlers that inconsequential.
Even their own side’s. Bangalore’s attack may have scuttled the opposition all out for the first time this season and wrapped up proceeding for a measly 104, yet they seemed like the extras in the day’s narrative. “It’s tough to judge the [defending side’s] bowling attack based on this game because you know that you have to do something exceedingly wrong to go badly in this game,” said Karthik matter-of-factly.
Part of the blame for the inevitability of it all – or credit, depending on where you’re watching – should lie with the Chinnaswamy and its famously small boundaries. Ahead of the game, Brad Hodge, the Gujarat coach, went as far as to say, “Chinnaswamy, with 55 million boundaries or whatever they are, it’s just not big enough in this modern day.”
Their IPL record 229-run stand was the fourth 100-plus partnership for the de Villiers and Kohli combine this season, with three of those coming on their home ground. A mammoth 107 sixes have been hit at the ground this season, double that at any other stadium.
Brendon McCullum, leading the opposition in Suresh Raina’s absence and facing the brunt of the carnage, was on the other side in IPL’s very first game on the same ground. He bludgeoned 13 sixes and ten boundaries on the way to a never-before-seen 73-ball 158 for Kolkata Knight Riders that April 2008 evening. Their 140-run win held the record for the highest victory margin until Saturday. High scores have since been the norm, with Gayle’s manic unbeaten 175 in 66 deliveries against the hapless Pune Warriors India in 2013 the crown jewel.
“You must expect your figures to be a little bit higher than at any other stadium. If you can probably go at 8 you think you’ve done a good job for the team,” conceded Jordan, whose figures of 4 for 11 made up slightly for the 1 for 132 he had gone for in three previous matches. “Such a small ground, and mishits can go for sixes as well, but you need to keep backing your skill and backing your methods and hopefully it works out for you in the end. But, because guys hit the ball so cleanly and so far these days, it can be a little bit demoralising. You have to stay nice and calm under pressure and try to execute. If it doesn’t go your way on the day, you need to move on very quickly because if you dwell on it, it could affect your next performance.”
For the Bangalore faithful, the batting heroics of de Villiers and Kohli will go down as one of those I-was-there moments. But will Saturday’s records at the Chinnaswamy one day be overshadowed? That too is an inevitability.