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Royal Challengers Bangalore’s AB De Villiers plays a shot during the 1st qualifier IPL 2016 match against Gujarat Lions at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
Royal Challengers Bangalore’s AB De Villiers plays a shot during the 1st qualifier IPL 2016 match against Gujarat Lions at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

AB De Villiers steers chase to take RCB to IPL 2016 final

AB De Villiers added an unbeaten 91 runs for the seventh wicket with Iqbal Abdulla to take the Royal Challengers Bangalore home

There are two types of chasers in the Royal Challengers Bangalore side. On one hand, there is Virat Kohli, the meticulous planner who goes through the job like solving a mathematics problem step by step; an eye on the required run-rate, picking the right bowler to target, knowing when to shift gears.

And on the other is AB de Villiers, who, in his own words, “just goes naturally with it", following his instincts.

The good thing for Bangalore is that both have been immensely successful in their own methods. Throughout the Indian Premier League 2016, the two have shown how devastating they can be when they do that together; they feed off each other and it’s not just a coincidence that they’re the first two names in the run-scorers list this year.

But more importantly for Bangalore, de Villiers proved on Tuesday against Gujarat Lions that they can do it separately too. Kohli had fallen for his first duck in T20s in more than two years, Chris Gayle, Shane Watson and K.L. Rahul had gone cheaply, and Bangalore were staring at defeat at 29 for 5 with Dhawal Kulkarni breathing fire. An umpiring blunder made it 68 for 6.

But fret not, because AB de Villiers was still there. He gave Kulkarni the respect he deserved, saw through a testing spell by Ravindra Jadeja and remained cautious against Dwayne Bravo. De Villiers’s first 20 balls produced only 29 runs.

But the moment he sensed weakness in the form of Dwayne Smith and Shadab Jakati, de Villiers showed no mercy. His next 27 balls produced 50 runs.

From the outside, it appears like an innings straight out of the Kohli textbook of chasing. The difference though is that de Villiers doesn’t ‘think’ it through, like Kohli does.

“It’s a funny thing. Virat and I actually spoke about it before the game," revealed de Villiers after the game. “Through our innings, he was full of energy giving a lot of information out. He was really really energetic and I told him, ‘Virat, you know I’ll just go naturally about it.’ I don’t think too much. He’s a thinker, I’m not a big thinker. I try and assess what’s going on but don’t think too much.

“I’m never 100% sure. It’s very easy to say now after crossing the line. But had I got out somewhere in the last three overs or so, everyone would have said it was a bad decision. It’s a fine line, but I follow my instincts. I try and watch the ball closely. I’ve played the game for many years now and I know my talent will take over if I just watch the ball and enjoy myself out there. We had a smile on our faces through most of our innings even though we were under a lot of pressure and very nervous. That’s the key for me – watch the ball and enjoy cricket. Instinct, I’d say."

It’s one thing to do that and “enjoy cricket" with established batsmen for company, and totally another to pull it off with the tail. De Villiers added an unbeaten 91 runs for the seventh wicket with Iqbal Abdulla to take Bangalore home.

“To be very honest, I thought I’d have to say a lot to him (Abdulla) but he was probably calmer than me," said de Villiers. “When he walked up, you could see that he has done this before. He had a calm head on his shoulders and straightaway understood what I was trying to tell him. I didn’t have to talk to him after that. You can just straightaway see it when you have a connection with someone – his eyes were open and he was there to win the game for the team and cross the line with me. A lot of credit should go to him. Fantastic partnership."

Another factor that made the chase more dramatic and laudable was the way de Villiers handled the threat of rain. With a steady drizzle arriving around the 14th over, both sides were visibly frantic with their approach. Kohli kept gesturing animatedly from the dug-out while a Gujarat substitute ran in with a DLS chart to hand over to Suresh Raina.

Bangalore were short of the DLS par score but de Villiers corrected that in a matter of minutes, smashing Smith for a six and a four in the 15th over. It was around this time that Raina missed a trick: With rain around and Bangalore needing 49 from the last five overs, Gujarat were perhaps better off bowling Bravo, their best death bowler, early. Raina, however, went with Jakati, only for de Villiers and Abdulla to take him for 16 runs to effectively kill the chase.

“Now that we’ve won the game, [we can say that the rain] played in our advantage," assessed de Villiers. “But had I got out there, everyone would have said, ‘Are you stupid, what are you doing?’ Virat sent a message saying we can be a little bit more positive with the rain around. I was thinking maybe two-three overs to try and get up with the run-rate again. Luckily that gave us momentum and this crowd got us pumped up, we were never going to lose from there."

The result of all that is Bangalore are just one step away from that elusive IPL trophy. They have been there twice earlier in the past and returned empty-handed, but this time, they are clear favourites especially since they will be playing at home.

“Honestly can’t explain how much it means to me," conceded de Villiers. “I haven’t played a lot of finals in my career. I’ve been with RCB for six years and we haven’t seen a lot of finals. A lot of people said we’re underperforming, but it’s moments like this that really make it worthwhile. We’ve had a great team spirit for quite a few years now and we’ve played some really good cricket but just never got to enjoy a final. Hopefully we’ll win it – we don’t know what’s going to happen yet but it’s a great honour and a privilege to be in a final with this great franchise."

Karthik Lakshmanan is senior staff writer at Wisden India. Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.

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