A cracking half-century from AB de Villiers (54*), an innings that took the game by the scruff of its neck, was instrumental in giving Royal Challengers Bangalore a winning start to their IPL campaign this season at the expense of new-boys Kochi Tuskers Kerala. Kochi had begun the game in magnificent fashion themselves, having raced away to 61/0 after 6 overs, and had it not been for some good bowling from Zaheer Khan and company towards the end, they would have ended up nearer to 180. In the end, all they managed was 161 a target that Bangalore easily overhauled thanks to some erratic bowling from Kochi.
Playing their first ever game of the IPL, the Kochi Tuskers laid out an expected line-up with Aussie Brad Hodge joining skipper Mahela Jayawardene in the middle-order. Brendon McCullum and VVS Laxman at the top provided an opening pair with the right contrast and with a talented domestic line-up of bowlers to support a sufficiently fit Muttiah Muralitharan, the squad looked complete. Bangalore were unidentifiable from last season, and with the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers and Dirk Nannes joining skipper Daniel Vettori, they resembled the Delhi Daredevils squad of previous seasons better!
Bangalore’s potent new-ball attack of Zaheer Khan and Dirk Nannes was not going to deter McCullum from going for his shots and after he had walked down the track to slap a boundary off Zaheer in the first over, he took Nannes apart in the second. Starting with two well struck boundaries, McCullum pulled the third ball over the deep-midwicket boundary even as the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium erupted. Nannes went for 16 runs in that over and Vettori quickly brought himself on to have a go at his Kiwi teammate.
Laxman, on 4 off 7 deliveries at that point, took the cue to join the party and began by striking Vettori for a clean boundary. A six over midwicket off Dilshan followed and when Abhimanyu Mithun overstepped to give Laxman another DLF maximum, Kochi were racing away. The wayward Mithun was clattered for 19 runs in the final powerplay over, taking the Tuskers to a very good looking 61/0 off 6 overs.
The Dilshan-Vettori combo pulled things back a little from then on, giving 21 runs in the next 4 overs, while also claiming Laxman’s scalp after a well-made 36. Laxman’s departure brought skipper Jayawardene in, who looked pretty comfortable to start with. With Kochi looking set for a big score though, McCullum threw his wicket away for 45, thanks to a badly executed ‘Dil-Scoop’. The runs kept coming at a fair clip for Kochi, helped by a few extras and some delicate hits by Jayawardene and Hodge, and the Kerala outfit had notched up 124 in 15 overs.
In an inspired move, Vettori brought himself on to bowl his final over in the 16th and decisively, got Jayawardene stumped first ball. Hodge too, could manage only an edged four before he was castled by a swinging yorker from Zaheer and with two overs to go, Bangalore had brought things back on a slightly even keel. Ravindra Jadeja, coming out of a one-year hiatus, played a nice little cameo to wrestle the momentum back for the Tuskers though, in the process delighting the capacity crowd once more. A straight six off Zaheer and two nicely hit boundaries got him 23 off 16 and Kerala ended with a competitive 161/5.
The Bangalore innings began with RP Singh sharing the new ball with the local boy, Sreesanth, who wasted no time in bringing the roof down taking out a dangerous Dilshan with his second ball of the day. McCullum’s sharp effort at cover was enough to dispatch Dilshan for 1, but with Kohli joining Mayank Agarwal, Bangalore were left unaffected. Both batsmen did well to punish some rank bad balls, and by the time the fourth over was bowled, Bangalore had scooted away to 31/1.
Ravindra Jadeja too, was welcomed with a four by Kohli but just as the latter was looking to run away with the game, he was caught plumb in front of the wicket by Vinay Kumar for 28. Opener Agarwal had been a steady accumulator till then, and after a six off Jadeja, he welcomed the master, Murali himself, with another maximum!
Sreesanth, at his erratic worst, gave away 15 runs in the 9th over, and with 82 runs needed in 11 overs with 8 wickets in hand, Bangalore were looking good. Agarwal fell in the next over though, having skied Jadeja to long-off, and with Jayawardene bringing Murali straight back, the game was on. Murali, alongwith Jadeja, kept things tight for the next few overs and as the required rate climbed towards 9, Bangalore looked a bit wobbly.
A cracking six off Muralitharan began the revival for Bangalore, and with RP Singh helping Saurabh Tiwary to settle down with two boundaries, Bangalore were left with a gettable 44 in the last five. Jadeja and Muralitharan kept Kochi in the hunt for the next two overs, but with his slow bowling options drying up, Jayawardene took a huge gamble of bowling the untested Raiphi Gomez with three overs left.
De Villiers thumped a maximum off the second ball, and though Gomez got rid of Tiwary two balls later, De Villiers effectively killed the game by sending the next two deliveries deep into the stands. Asad Pathan did the rest, hitting three fours to force a quick closure and it looked all too easy in the end for Bangalore.
Bangalore will next take on last year’s finalists Mumbai Indians at the Chinnaswamy stadium in what should be a mouth-watering encounter, while Kochi travel to Mumbai to face the Sahara Pune Warriors. Though they were beaten, Kochi have proved that they can challenge the field, and this side should make great viewing as the season progresses.
Kochi Tuskers Kerala: Brendon McCullum, VVS Laxman, Mahela Jayawardene (c), Parthiv Patel (wk), Brad Hodge, Ravindra Jadeja, Raiphi Gomez, Muttiah Muralitharan, Vinay Kumar, RP Singh, Sreesanth
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Mayank Agarwal, Tilakaratne Dilshan, Cheteshwar Pujara, AB de Villiers (wk), Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary, Asad Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Daniel Vettori (c), Dirk Nannes, Abhimanyu Mithun
Kochi Tuskers Kerala: 161/5 (20 Overs, 8.05 rpo)
McCullum 45(32) Vettori 1/17
Laxman 36(29) Zaheer 1/28
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 162/4 (18.4 Overs, 8.67 rpo)
De Villiers 54(40) Jadeja 1/28
Agarwal 33(24) Vinay Kumar 1/26