The stars are aligned perfectly for the home team. The venue of the knockouts is decided in advance, as a policy the Board organises them on neutral grounds. With a top-two finish in the IPL table, Royal Challengers Bangalore have earned the right to play at home. On Tuesday, as they go head-to-head with Gujarat Lions, locals are calling the first Qualifier 1 the final before the final.
When you have Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle on one side, and Brendon MuCullum, Suresh Raina and Dwayne Smith on the other, the bowlers can expect to come under heavy fire at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Kohli’s form has been extraordinary. He doesn’t look to hit big or the longest, yet has maintained an amazing strike rate. The Lions will vouch for that. In the first game at Rajkot, Kohli got an unbeaten hundred; and in the return leg at home, he bettered the effort and powered his team to a 144-run win.
The honours have been shared but RCB have the momentum and psychological advantage. Not only are they on a roll with four straight wins, it will be tough for the Lions’ bowlers to recover from the mauling they received 10 days ago at this ground.
Kohli’s partner in the carnage was AB de Villiers as they put together a 229-run partnership. Since their last face-off, RCB’s batting has gotten even more intimidating. Chris Gayle has found his touch at the right time, which he displayed during the knocks of 49 versus Kolkata Knight Riders and 73 versus Kings XI Punjab.
Lions lack the individual brilliance of RCB, but their top order can be as effective in the way they combine. McCullum, Smith and Raina hunt in a pack; and set solid platforms at the top of the order.
In their win over RCB at home, Smith scored a 21-ball 32, sharing a 47-run (32 balls) opening partnership with McCullum, who contributed with a 24-ball 42. Raina and McCullum added 40 for the third wicket and 42 were needed to win when the Lions skipper got out.
In their last league game against Mumbai, the three were again to the fore. McCullum made a 27-ball 48 and Raina scored a 36-ball 58 before Smith finished the chase with an unbeaten 37 (23 balls).
The key battle will be between the captains. Both have a tremendous IPL record. Raina was the all-time leading run-getter till Kohli overtook him this season. Kohli is having his best season while the way Raina has paced his innings in the last two games has given Lions the edge.