Match date: May 17
Venue: M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore
Most eyes in Karnataka, and several part of India, are currently trained on the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore following the results of the state assembly elections. Come Thursday (May 17), the Royal Challengers Bangalore camp, however, will have its sights firmly fixed heavenwards, and for more reasons than one.
Patchy form throughout the season has left Bangalore in a predicament where their future no longer lies in their own hands. Following a demoralising five-run defeat at the hands of Sunrisers Hyderabad on May 7, their seventh loss in 10 games, Bangalore found themselves having to win each of their remaining four matches to even stand a chance of making the playoffs. They are since two on two, but it is the same opposition that tigerishly defended 146 at Uppal which now looms large, in the return fixture at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Defeat on Thursday will mean Bangalore cannot finish on higher than 12 points; with the threat of rain looming, even a one-pointer could spell disaster. Bangalore would rather their fate was decided on the park rather than by the elements, especially with momentum on their side following convincing victories in their last two games, against Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab respectively.
Both victories were achieved chasing – first by five wickets, then by the full 10 – in keeping with a trend Bangalore have maintained almost the entire season. Four of their five wins have come when Bangalore have batted second; each of those results has been influenced by the scything willow of either Virat Kohli or AB de Villiers, or both.
There is an admitted over-dependency on these two virtuosos – how can there not be? – but the inclusion of Parthiv Patel has lent a new dimension to the batting. The bowling has lifted itself in a do-or-die scenario with Umesh Yadav providing the fire that totally singed Punjab the other night.
The nothing-to-lose scenario seems to be suiting Bangalore to the hilt. Kohli has spoken of how it has freed up the players and allowed them to express themselves, and his men have proved the skipper right over the last couple of encounters. Their big challenge still awaits them, against the team perched comfortably on top of the standings and guaranteed to finish in the top-two, no matter what happens during the rest of the league phase.
Hyderabad started with three wins, slumped to two losses and then stacked up a staggering six wins in a row, most of them on the back of a fabulous bowling attack of pace, swing, turn and guile. Not without reason are they acknowledged to possess the best bowling unit of IPL 2018, though there will be a little bit of concern about their last two performances. Rishabh Pant took them apart as he piloted Delhi Daredevils to 187 for 5, Ambati Rayudu lay into them the other night with his maiden ton to help Chennai Super Kings hunt down 179 for 4 with ridiculous ease. Kane Williamson will be hoping these are temporary blips and that the kinks can be ironed out with the business end rapidly approaching.
The league leaders will be heartened by the return to form of Shikhar Dhawan and the sustained brilliance of their captain, though question marks hang over the middle order that has only fired sporadically. With a mere 189 runs from 10 innings, Manish Pandey has been the most obvious disappointment. A return to his original home, against the franchise for whom he made the first IPL hundred by an Indian, could reignite the spark in the Bangalore boy.
With Kohli not playing the Afghanistan Test next month, Thursday will offer Bangaloreans one last chance to see the Indian captain in action for a while. They wouldn’t have needed any motivation to turn up in their thousands in any case. Their wish-list will be simple – for the rain to stay away, and for a popular win in the franchise’s last home game of the season.
Played: 12; Bangalore 4, Hyderabad 7, No-result 1
Head-to-head at the Chinnaswamy:
Played: 6, Bangalore 3, Hyderabad 2, No-result 1