The first two overs of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s chase against Kolkata Knight Riders yielded as many as 30 runs. Virat Kohli struck a couple of boundaries while Faf du Plessis, again coming in as an Impact sub, collected two sixes apart from a four. Chasing 201 for victory, RCB would have had the confidence of pulling it off, considering the high-scoring nature of the night games played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. But before the powerplay ended, the tone of RCB’s innings had changed completely.
In the three previous night games played here, spin had not played a major role. Spinners had only a little over 25 percent of the total wickets in the night games with an economy of over 10. However, with their attack loaded with the likes of Sunil Narine, Varun Chakaravarthy and Suyash Sharma, and skipper Nitish Rana also being a handy spinner himself, the Knight Riders relied heavily on the slower bowlers to go against the tide at the Chinnaswamy and help them defend the total.
For the Royal Challengers, batting has revolved around the big three of Faf du Plessis, Glenn Maxwell and Virat Kohli this season. Against spin, Du Plessis had a strike rate of 150-plus while Maxwell had struck at 170 before this match. This, to an extent, masked Kohli’s lack of fluency against the spinners, with the former India captain scoring at only 103.5 against spin. Pace on ball was Kohli’s preference, with his strike rate of 171 against the quicker bowlers being evidence of that.
But Kohli’s approach of keeping the spinners at arm’s length and taking on the pacers wasn’t going to be an option in this game. The Knight Riders introduced spin as early as the third over and Suyash delivered immediately by bagging the big wicket of du Plessis, having him caught at long-on. With Shahbaz Ahmed’s promotion to No.3 not working again and Maxwell failing in his attempt to clear the fence, RCB lost three wickets before the sixth over was completed. It was rather similar to the spin torment KKR had unleashed on RCB in their last outing, where Varun’s four-wicket haul, Suyash’s three and Narine’s two preventing the opposition from creating any sort of momentum chasing 205 at the Eden Gardens as they folded for 123.
KKR were trying to do that again at the Chinnaswamy through their spinners but this time a proactive Kohli was standing in their path, along with Mahipal Lomror, as they took on the spin challenge to revive RCB’s chase. Kohli was quick to pounce on any errors in length while Lomror was tackling the experienced Narine through maximums. They raised a half-century stand off 33 deliveries, with Kohli getting to a 33-ball fifty en route, and their bustling partnership ensured that the required rate did not get out of control.
But two key moments in successive overs pulled RCB back, and they eventually ended up short. First was Lomror’s dismissal when he failed to clear the fence off Varun, getting dismissed for an 18-ball 34. Then Kohli, who put in a much-improved performance against spin in this game – 35 runs at a strike rate of 152.17 – fell to Andre Russell thanks to a stunning catch from Venkatesh Iyer in the deep. There was not much of a fight after that as RCB ended 21 short of the Knight Riders’ total, with Varun and Suyash overcoming the Chinnaswamy challenge against spin despite Narine conceding 41 without picking up a wicket.
There were also a few key moments that RCB failed to capitalise on earlier while bowling. Rana was put down a couple of times and he went on to score an impactful 21-ball 48 that set the path for KKR to finish with 200 after RCB had done a decent job in the middle overs. Kohli, speaking to broadcasters after the game, was blunt in his assessment of RCB’s performance. “To be honest we handed them over the game. We deserved to lose because we were not professional enough on the field. I thought the bowlers hit decent areas but we didn’t hold on to our chances. That’s what we call a freebie and we literally handed them over a victory. We take pride in the way we play and tonight we weren’t up to the standard.
“With the bat as well, we set ourselves up really well and then (there were) so many soft dismissals. Balls which are not wicket-taking balls but we ended up hitting (them to) the fielders about four-five times in the innings. So these are some of the soft plays in cricket which you want to avoid as a team. So when you do six-seven of those in one night, obviously you are going to be on the losing side,” he added.
Having played as many as six games at home out of their eight in the competition so far, RCB will set out to travel for five away matches. Historically, they have not been as ruthless as some of the other teams at home. With four wins and as many losses in IPL 2023, they will have to regroup quickly and avoid those unforced errors that cost them the game against KKR.