Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bangalore fight back to clinch thriller

Rohit Sharma: another superb innings in vain...

They may have been scraping the bottom of the points table, but the Bangalore Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers dished out one of the best games of the IPL. In a relatively low-scoring match in which the bowlers from both teams had plenty of say, Bangalore squeezed out a dramatic three-run win - the second of the tournament and their first at home - to move to sixth in the points table.

The match ebbed and flowed throughout, both teams had opportunities to take control, and both frittered it away. Deccan, requiring 157 for victory, had the run-chase well in control when the classy Rohit Sharma and VVS Laxman were involved in a 96-run stand. With 20 deliveries to go, Deccan needed 30 to win with two well-set batsmen at the crease, and seven others to follow. From there, it all went pear-shaped for them.

Rohit had played another sublime innings, showcasing his outstanding talent in bringing up his third half-century of the IPL, but when Jacques Kallis pitched one up, Rohit - who had carved a four and a six earlier in the over - could only loft it to long-on. Shahid Afridi's entry should have been good news for Deccan; instead, he made just 1 before Dale Seyn pulled off a superb diving catch at long-on.

Then came two lbw decisions which further queered the pitch: Laxman, who had motored to a 44-ball 52, was given out to a Praveen Kumar delivery which pitched outside leg, and when Scott Styris was given out in similar fashion to Zaheer Khan in the next over, it seemed Bangalore had sealed the win.

Going into the final over, Deccan needed 20 with Anil Kumble to bowl - it seemed a lost cause, till Sanjay Bangar struck two magnificent sixes off the third and fourth deliveries, reducing the equation to a nail-biting six off two. Kumble, though, held firm, conceding two singles off the last two balls, and a tense Dravid finally allowed his emotions to show through, high-fiving his team-mates. As he said later: "We got out of jail today."

When Rohit and Laxman were at the crease, though, it seemed Bangalore were doomed to another home defeat. After being pegged back by superb opening spells from Steyn, Zaheer and Praveen, during the course of which Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs - their two biggest batting stars - succumbed, Rohit and Laxman got the run-chase back on track. Rohit's innings was another masterclass, as he showed the composure and shot-selection of a veteran. He started off with a glorious six over wide long-on off Kumble, and then exhibited power and touch in equal measure, bludgeoning straight hits and also moving away and caressing Kallis just wide off the wicketkeeper.

Laxman showed just how much he has developed as a Twenty20 batsman, adding the leg-side hoick to more conventional strokes. The 12th over saw Laxman at his sublime best, as he drove Kumble past extra-cover, used his feet and lofted on the off side, and flicked past midwicket for three fours.

Bangalore's total ultimately turned out to be just enough, but at the halfway stage it seemed they had frittered away another game, as their attempt to solve the riddle of Twenty20 batting came unstuck again. They seemed on course for much more after ten over, when they were cruising at 80 for 1, but then fell away quite predictably in the second half as the Deccan bowlers struck back with regular wickets, in the process exposing - yet again - Bangalore's lack of firepower.

Till the halfway stage, the picture was an encouraging one as Jaffer and Kohli laid a perfect platform. The launching pad was ready, but the take-off went completely awry. After racing to 44, Jaffer top-edged a slog-sweep off the impressive Pragyan Ojha, who foxed Kallis in his next over. Kohli perished soon after, and when Misbah was at the receiving end of a poor lbw decision - the ball from Afridi was drifting down leg - Bangalore had lost three for nine and had wasted all the good work done earlier. Dravid's two sixes in the last over from the No. 6 position helped lift the total beyond 150, and in the end, those hits proved decisive.

Through the early part, though, the home team prospered. As usual they lost their first wicket early, as Bharat Chipli inside-edged onto his stumps to ensure that six opening stands have fetched them a grand total of 74 runs. Then came the best passage of batting for Bangalore, as Kohli, promoted to No. 3, justified that move, adding 72 for the second wicket with Jaffer in nine overs.

On an abrasive pitch where the ball tended to stop, neither batsman completely dominated the bowling, but yet they got their runs at a fair clip. In between a few mistimed shots, Jaffer executed some crisp drives, and was prepared to innovate as well, moving across his stumps to Sanjay Bangar and Afridi to clip them to the fine-leg boundary. Kohli was more forceful in his shot-making, getting two sixes, carving Bangar over midwicket and then striking Ojha cleanly over his head.

Those moments had the crowd on their feet, but in between the Deccan bowlers bowled enough dots to ensure that Bangalore never ran away with the momentum. Laxman shuffled his bowlers around, and the slower ones were the most difficult to get away. The final total looked eminently gettable on paper, but in the end it produced a cracker of a game.