On a sticky wicket in Chennai the Royal Challengers Bangalore were able to hold their nerve with the ball to eke out a tight six-run win against Sunrisers Hyderabad, in both teams' second match of the 2021 IPL. In a match eerily similar to the day before, the team batting second collapsed from a position of dominance to throw away a crucial win.
Going into the fixture RCB were on a high, having taken down pre-tournament favourites Mumbai Indians in their opener. SRH on the other hand had been brushed aside by Kolkata Knight Riders in their first match and would have been hoping for a stronger response from their players today.
The Royal Challengers batted first, after Virat Kohli lost another toss, and it was clear from early in the innings that this was a difficult wicket to bat on. Devdutt Padikkal and Shahbaz Ahmed both falling for low scores, whilst Kohli played carefully at the other end in his trademark anchor role.
Despite the trickiness of the surface RCB did briefly threaten to take the game away from the Sunrisers. For a few overs it looked as though Kohli and Glenn Maxwell had the range of shots and inventiveness to master the conditions as they made it to 91 for two after 12 overs. Maxwell, in particular, looked in fine form, as he took a special fancy to Shahbaz Nadeem – plundering one of his overs for 20 runs, which included two sixes.
However, Sunrisers are a bowling team, and just as it looked as though the game may be drifting away from them they struck. David Warner shuffled his bowlers, returning to the Bajan all-rounder Jason Holder, who dismissed Kohli, slowing the RCB run rate.
Kohli's wicket brought AB de Villiers to the crease, at virtually the perfect time for a man with his skills. Unsurprisingly, Warner immediately turned to his best bowler Rashid Khan. Eventually conceding only 18 runs across his four overs, Rashid finished as the pick of the SRH bowlers, also claiming the wicket of Washington Sundar.
With RCB wobbling, this innings provided a fine riposte to the format warriors who claim there is no ebb and flow in T20 cricket. Maxwell and Kyle Jamieson helped them to recover strongly over the last three overs of the innings, as they added 39 to their score, ending on 149 for eight. Whilst in the wider scheme of T20 cricket this did not look imposing, this was a score which looked competitive, bearing in mind the surface the match was played on.
Maxwell was the stand out performer for RCB, as he was dismissed for 59 off the last ball of the innings. He hit three of his team's four sixes, including a monster off Holder in the last over, and in general looked light-years ahead of anyone else in his team. His performances in the first two matches of the 2021 IPL will no doubt frustrate his former employers Punjab Kings, as he has already raced to within 10 runs of his 2020 aggregate.
With the ball, RCB were able to apply pressure and squeeze the Sunrisers from the first over. Mohammed Siraj was able to find some early movement and delivered a maiden to start things off. He followed this up with another good over, dismissing Wriddhiman Saha, for a wretched one from 9 deliveries.
This proved to be something of a false dawn for RCB though, as Manish Pandey and David Warner began building a partnership – a task made easier by some questionable bowling changes from Kohli, who practically fed Siraj to David Warner by bringing him back for the final over of the power play.
With a platform established it looked like SRH would make light work of the target. Pandey and Warner coasted through the middle overs of the match, playing risk-free cricket, perhaps having learnt from the failure of Kolkata Knight Riders the day before.
That is until David Warner picked out a boundary rider to depart for a very well-constructed 54. He was clearly angry with the manner of his dismissal, admonishing himself as he departed the field, well aware that this was a very difficult pitch to get set on. The next man, Jonny Bairstow, did struggle, as the ball began to grip again and great big black holes began opening up all over the surface.
From this point on, it was hard to distinguish between this match, and the match from the same venue the day before. A combination of good bowling, poor batting, and a difficult pitch combined to hijack the Sunrisers, as they slipped into total disarray.
The key turning point came in the 17th over as Shahbaz Ahmed claimed three wickets, picking up Bairstow, Pandey and the dangerous Abdul Samad, all caught trying to relieve the pressure by finding the boundary. While the shot selection may have been poor, the difficulty of the conditions cannot be overstated, as timing the ball appeared to be virtually impossible in the final five overs of the innings.
With Sunrisers now five wicket down, and all recognised batters out, the task fell to the trio of SRH allrounders – Rashid Khan, Jason Holder and Vijay Shankar – and the bowlers. Despite a couple of smeared boundaries from Rashid, and a free hit in the final over, it is fair to say that they never really threatened to get SRH back into the match.
Things could not have started better for RCB in this year's tournament, seeing off two favourites but SRH will be disappointed to have lost two games to other likely play-off contenders. With Kane Williamson sitting on the bench, and a middle order struggling for runs, they will be tempted to reshuffle before their third match.