When Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore host Steven Smith’s Rising Pune Supergiant in the 17th match of the Indian Premier League 2017 on Sunday (April 15) evening, many eyes will be trained on how the captains interact with each other.
The two had more than their share of tense moments during Australia’s Test tour of India, which produced riveting cricket as well as extreme drama and ended with Kohli not too keen to leave on-field matters on the field.
However, the Bangalore v Pune will be about a lot more than the potential Kohli-Smith sub-contest.
Both are strong teams on paper, yet both have won just one of their four encounters so far. As a result, Bangalore are placed sixth on the table, while Pune are eighth on account of a poorer net run-rate. While Pune beat Mumbai, courtesy a masterful 84 not out by Smith, Bangalore managed to pull off a win against Delhi Daredevils.
Bangalore look like a formidable unit, particularly since Kohli and AB de Villiers have returned after missing the first few games – two for de Villiers and three for Kohli. While both the Bangalore mainstays marked their return to action with starring knocks, their team ended up on the losing side on both occasions.
Kohli scored a half-century of excellent quality on a surface where most batsmen struggled in
Bangalore’s last game against Mumbai, where the visitors overcame a Samuel Badree hat-trick to win by four wickets.
Also read: It will take some time to bounce back: Kohli
Badree, in his first game for Bangalore, took 4 for 9 to join a strong list of legspinners who have shone bright this IPL. When he reduced Mumbai to 7 for 4 and then 33 for 5, it looked game, set and match for Bangalore. Even Kieron Pollard, who spoiled Bangalore’s plans with a 47-ball 70, struggled against his compatriot, surviving a close lbw shout initially. If Yuzvendra Chahal, also a legspinner, can keep it tight in collaboration with Badree, Bangalore will be able to keep a check on Pune.
Tymal Mills, Bangalore’s big-ticket purchase, has shown glimpses of why his franchise shelled out Rs 12 crore for his services. But despite his canny variations, he has managed only three wickets in four games and conceded runs at 8.81 per over. He has to change both those numbers quite quickly.
In the absence of KL Rahul, the onus has been on Chris Gayle to fire but he has been tepid so far. “He is hitting the ball really well in the nets; he is due a big knock and hopefully that comes tomorrow,” said Trent Woodhill, Bangalore’s batting coach, indicating that the big Jamaican will be given a long rope.
Bangalore have displayed moments of brilliance, and they would hope for the elements to come together against Pune.
On the unusually slow Bangalore surface, the home team will hope to catch Pune off-guard. In order for that to work, however, they have to be smart in tackling Imran Tahir, the excitable legspinner, who will be charting his plans with increased incentive after being taken apart for 53 runs in four overs by Gujarat Lions.
Smith has continued in the rich vein of form that saw him finish as the top-scorer in the Test tour of India. In three matches for Pune, he has accumulated 153 runs at 76.5, and is second on the table only to Gautam Gambhir. The Australian will look to extend his dominance, and should be spurred on by the chance to match wits, and skills, with Kohli again.
Where Pune’s current skipper is flourishing, MS Dhoni, the man he replaced as captain, has been in poor touch with just 33 runs from four games, with a highest of 12 not out. His form must be a worry for Pune. If he can rediscover a slice of that old magic, it will do Pune’s unstable middle-order a world of good. Ajinkya Rahane must also look to shoulder a greater proportion of the load in the opener’s slot. After a fantastic 60 in Pune’s solitary win this season, he has struggled.
Both teams seem to possess good balance across departments but have been unable to consolidate. It’s still relatively early in the tournament and a win here could just be the catalyst for either side. It will be interesting to see who seizes the opportunity.
Played 2. Bangalore 2. Pune 0.
Head-to-head at M Chinnaswamy Stadium
Played 1. Bangalore 1. Pune 0.