Crescent Kashmir

RCB ride on their PowerPlay cutting edge

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The Chinnaswamy Stadium, so often the producer of unbridled din, was unusually tetchy, a feeling permeated perhaps by the knowledge of the home side not having enough runs on the board. They had 174, which Virat Kohli told his bowlers was good on that wicket. However, David Warner, who walked out to bat amidst the brief unease, thought it was an easily achievable target. And he had numerical validation to believe the same.

Since 2018, teams batting first have had only six wins in 16 matches here. The average score batting first was 180, and the average winning score batting first was 192. Four nights ago, 212 hadn’t been enough. Yes, this was a day game and on more than one occasion, the pitch conspired to yank a hitter out of shape. It is exactly why Warner fielded first and why Faf du Plessis wanted to do so too. Even without the dew, as the evening wears on, the pitch gets a little glaze on top and the ball skids onto the bat better.

Before the lights could take full effect, there was a small window for Mohammed Siraj and Co. to make their play with the ball, to land those early dents that could hopefully help nullify the toss as well as the scoreboard disadvantage. On the flipside, when the Capitals began their chase, they may have viewed the seamers as their likeliest source of quick runs. RCB’s batters in the PowerPlay took 31 from three overs of the fast bowlers and just 16 from the other three sent down by the spinners.

Siraj’s first delivery was on a seven-metre length and cutting back into Warner, which the Capitals skipper could only stab away. It set the tone for the crowd to rediscover its voice. Four balls later, the bedlam was rediscovered when Prithvi Shaw pushed a Siraj ball towards extra cover and set off tentatively. His opposite Impact Substitute, Anuj Rawat, dived, got up off-balanced and still lined up a throw that found its mark and caught Shaw short.

Before Siraj got back to his bowling mark in the next over, the Capitals were 2/2 with Kohli settling under a Mitchell Marsh skier. Siraj then invoked Test match levels of intensity as he charged in and cut a ball into Yash Dhull from length and wheeled away into a mock celebrappeal. Next ball was fuller and cut back into the Dhull, beating him for pace and catching him on the pads flush in front of the stumps. At 2/3, Capitals’ plans of tucking into a Bengaluru buffet had received a rude plate snatch.

These fast starts with the ball have been a noticeable uptick in RCB’s game at the start of IPL 2023. They were the worst bowling team in the PowerPlay last year, taking only 19 wickets across the season at an average of 42.74 and an economy of 8.46. In contrast, they had their opposition at 29/3 (MI), 47/2 (KKR) and 37/3 (LSG) at the six-over mark coming into the game for an average of 14.13 and an economy of 6.28. On Saturday, Delhi Capitals were 32/4 having hit their first boundary off the 23rd ball of the innings.

Siraj’s white-ball evolution in the last year, his addition of the wobble-seam delivery and the rediscovery of his outswinger has been central to this turning of the page. It propelled him to the top of the ODI rankings and erased India’s new-ball deficiency. In four games of IPL 2023, his PowerPlay economy stands at 4.7 as opposed to last season when he conceded at 10.22 to the over.

Despite Siraj’s efforts, RCB came into this game with a solitary win. It was down to them quickly losing control in the post-PowerPlay period. In that regard, the performance of local-boy Vyshak Vijaykumar ought to come as sweet relief. The Karnataka seamer was quick enough and sharp enough to be the follow-up bowler to give the hosts’ campaign the buoyancy it needed. His hard length delivery stopped on Warner, who toe-ended a catch to mid-wicket to stud RCB’s PowerPlay win. Vyshak then displayed his knuckleball tricks through the middle-overs that brought him further wickets of Axar Patel and Lalit Yadav and figures of 3 for 22 on debut.

Faf du Plessis’ grin at the end was visible from a distance as he wrapped Siraj in a bear hug at the end of the game; never mind the fates and losing the toss again, his team had climbed out of the hole they had dug for themselves. Even after having a struggling Capitals side at 53/5 that the visitors managed to cross 150 at the end was indicative of both how much easier batting had gotten in the second innings as well as underscored their efforts in the first six overs. That they got their campaign back on track while their leading wicket-taker from last season, Wanindu Hasaranga, had a rare off-day in the middle-overs ought to reinforce confidence of an even better show moving forward.

“We needed that to get the confidence back in the group. Especially the bowling group. Unfortunately, we’ve had to defend for a few games in a row now, and it’s not always easy at the Chinnaswamy. So very proud of them tonight,” du Plessis said.

“Also the new rule [Impact Substitute] now – you always feel you need more. 175 in a day game here is a good score. But with the new rule there’s some uncertainty. It proved to be the right score. But the way we bowled in the first six overs, not only today – in all the games. Siraj set the tone beautifully. Generally, the first six overs are most important with the bat. You want to play positively and get ahead of the rate. The way we bowled was just unbelievable. Huge credit to our seamers in the first six.”

Now if only they can get it all together.

© Cricbuzz

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