There was a reason Rising Pune Supergiants skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had no hesitation in choosing to field after winning the toss against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Friday.
There has been a peculiar yet inexplicable trend in this season of the Indian Premier League: 14 out of the 15 matches before Friday’s encounter have been won by the team chasing. The only exception being RCB, who defeated Sunrisers Hyderabad by 45 runs in the fourth game of the tournament.
However, there is another trend that Dhoni should have been more wary about. The AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli partnership, which has been the fulcrum of the RCB batting this season.
The duo put on 155 runs for the second wicket on Friday, propelling Bangalore to 185, which helped them win by 13 runs on Friday. While Kohli scored 80 off 63 balls, the South African made 83 off 46 balls. By the time their wickets fell, off consecutive deliveries in the final over, RCB had already piled on 182.
The performance reiterated that the key to undoing RCB’s star-studded batting attack this season seems to be to prevent De Villiers and Kohli from scoring big. In fact, much of the fortunes of Bangalore this season have seemed to hinge on the duo’s partnership.
Against Sunrisers Hyderabad, they put on 157 runs. Against Delhi Daredevils, they made 107. Only against Mumbai Indians did the partnership yield just 59, as both fell coincidentally in the same over to spinner Krunal Pandya.
Murugan Ashwin has been Pune skipper Dhoni’s trump card so far this season. The 25-year-old’s journey from a Chennai Super Kings nets bowler a few seasons ago to being Pune’s key bowler has been nothing short of inspiring. However, on Thursday, De Villiers showed the young spinner that form can be a treacherous bed fellow, hitting him for 29 runs off two overs, following which Dhoni did not bring him back.
Pune’s chase began on a horrid note. Their most consistent run-getter Faf du Plessis fell for two runs in the second over. A ball later, Kevin Pietersen had to go back injured after appearing to pull a muscle in his leg. In the next over, Steve Smith was out run out for four. Dhoni and opener Ajinkya Rahane steadied the innings, stitching a partnership of their own. Their resilient stand ended when Rahane fell for 60. Dhoni followed soon for 41. Thisara Perera briefly raised hopes of a victory with a 13-ball 34. However, it was not to be.