A sense of nervous energy in the air was palpable as Lucknow Super Giants openers walked out for a small chase on a nagging black soil surface. Just three days ago LSG put on a T20 batting clinic where they smashed more than double of the target in front of them (127). But that wasn’t at their home where questions have been asked of them that they don’t have answers for yet. KL Rahul’s side in fact botched a similarly low-scoring chase in their previous fixture at home – falling short against Gujarat Titans’ modest 135/6. On the same difficult strip, even RCB’s 126/9 had the potential to be challenging.
Faf du Plessis knew it all too well. “It’s a slow pitch. If we can take 1 or 2 wickets…” he said in his assessment at the half-way stage. LSG believed 127 should be chased on any pitch, but RCB acknowledged in the change room that a good start will make their total look a lot bigger than it was. The visitors thus emerged with a contrasting vibe – shoulders high and nimble-footed with a spring in every step.
As has been his wont this season, Mohammed Siraj set the perfect tone for RCB in the first over. Kyle Mayers, the PBKS tormentor, mistimed a pull to Anuj Rawat at mid-on and sparked wild celebrations. Virat Kohli ran and roared, and the RCB-supporting Lucknow crowd roared with him.
There perhaps couldn’t have been better conditions across all IPL venues where RCB could’ve seamlessly re-introduced Josh Hazlewood. His accuracy – quick, short and out of reach of Ayush Badoni’s horizontal bat – ramped up the heat on the chasing side in the second over. LSG’s makeshift opener swiped at deliveries, but only caught air. This was no Mohali where the ball flew off his willow in a blazing cameo. This was home, where middling the ball seemed arduous. It led to overeagerness to pinch singles and a couple of risky yes-no calls with Krunal Pandya, further enhancing LSG’s nervous demeanour.
If LSG’s bowling effort was all about being clinical, RCB’s came with a dash of understandable desperation. Kohli and Faf du Plessis were in their bowler’s ears between overs and made reactive field changes as Krunal fought fire with fire by taking Siraj on. Glenn Maxwell extinguished that quickly with some grip and turn, giving Kohli another chance at long off to involve the crowd in his celebration.
RCB’s intention of really digging their heels into LSG’s insecure batting on this sluggish surface went perfectly to plan as another hero from the 257 essay was sent packing early. Badoni was neatly set up by Hazlewood who bowled an over full of a quick and short balls outside the off-stump to him and then suckered him in with a fuller delivery at a slower pace in his following over. Badoni’s eyes lit up but his uppish drive went to Kohli at short cover. By the end of the PowerPlay, RCB had picked four wickets – a feat only they’ve achieved this season and achieved it thrice.
For all of RCB’s early brilliance with the ball, LSG still had scope to tip the scales back in their favour. Nicholas Pooran even slog-swept Wanindu Hasaranga on the first
But for all of RCB’s early brilliance with the ball, LSG still had scope to tip the scales back in their favour with a consistent period of play where they put a lid on poor shot-selection and the accompanying slide. Nicholas Pooran slog swept the first ball he faced – off Wanindu Hasaranga – for a six but caved at the first sign of pressure being built up by the RCB bowlers again. In the seventh over, when LSG were in need of a steady passage of play, Pooran attempted another big hit and perished to a well-judged catch from Mahipal Lomror at deep square leg. Marcus Stoinis, with a 72 off 40 in Mohali last game, was also made to look like a fair-weather batter who just couldn’t handle the pressure of the situation and resist the lure of a tossed up delivery from Karn Sharma.
When LSG look back on this squandered chase, some of the appalling decisions made in the middle are bound to be flagged. The poor judgement to scamper for a double that led to Gowtham’s run out is expected to be at the top of the pile as his efforts to revive the chase came to an abrupt end.
The run out in the 12th over all but brought the curtains down on LSG’s chase as Ravi Bishnoi and Amit Mishra tried to take a stab at it, rather unconvincingly. RCB gave away just 10 singles and bowled as many dots to the pair over the next 20 deliveries before another bad running call led to Bishnoi’s exit. The chase still got dragged to the final over but the writing was on the wall for LSG from very early on as they just couldn’t display any semblance of composure in the face of difficult batting conditions and the absence of KL Rahul till they were nine down, owing to a hip flexor injury he suffered on the field.
After an emotionally-charged 200-v-200 thriller in Chinnaswamy the Lucknow game had an anti-climactic finish, and soured further with a post-match altercation between Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir. When the dust settles, however, the bitterness LSG feel will come, not from the words exchanged, but from the team’s glaring inability to come to grips with home conditions.