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Lions stare down back-from-the-dead RCB

BENGALURU:Two weeks ago, Virat Kohli, with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) languishing in sixth place and having to win all four of its remaining matches to make the play-offs, had said that his team “loved the situation.”

All set: Captain Raina will look to continue his good form and lead from the front - he has two fifties in two games since becoming a father. PHOTO: G.P. Sampath Kumar

The skipper is, indeed, known for a certain amount of swagger, but even by that measure it seemed a bit of a stretch.

For, even as his team’s batting had reached dizzyingly high levels, the bowling had plummeted into the abyss.

However, in the days since, his team — perhaps feeding off the captain’s energy — has made the grade and earned itself two shots at the IPL final, the first of which will be on Tuesday against Gujarat Lions at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here.

Leggie Yuzvendra Chahal’s words after the win against Kings XI Punjab ring true here. “Looking at his energy, we never feel that the game is over,” he had said.

Much of the success has been attributed to RCB’s heavy-duty batting line-up, and rightly so. But, as much as Kohli, in the company of the marauding duo of A.B. de Villiers and Chris Gayle, has devoured opposition bowlers thus far, scoring a mammoth 919 runs at 91.9 with four centuries and six fifties, he is unabashedly a bowlers’ captain.

“I’m more pleased when the bowlers take wickets than when guys get hundreds,” he has routinely maintained ever since he took over Test captaincy. The RCB bowling unit’s improvement in the last four matches, largely owing to the confidence shown by him, will have no doubt pleased him.

A case in point
Chahal can be a case in point. Despite him getting clobbered in the earlier matches, Kohli has persisted with him, often as an attacking option. So much so, that the 25-year-old from Haryana is now the purple-cap holder with 19 wickets — 11 of those, including a career-best four for 25, have come in the last four games.

Left-arm seamer S. Arvind has struck early blows, Shane Watson has 16 wickets and Chris Jordan has sufficiently augmented the death-bowling resources. However, in table-topper Gujarat Lions, it will face a stern test, the record 144-run win earlier here notwithstanding. Lions might not boast of a batting top-order as explosive as RCB’s, but in Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch and to an extent Dwayne Smith, they have an effective one. Raina, with 397 runs, is the only Lions batsman to be in the top-10 run-getters’ list.

But, Finch (339), McCullum (321), Dinesh Karthik (283) have proved that there has been more than one go-to man.

Add to that the stifling nature of its bowlers — Praveen Kumar and Dwayne Bravo ably helped by Dhawal Kulkarni — it will have an even, if not a superior, chance of winning.

McCullum, no stranger to the short boundaries at Bengaluru, finally found form in the last match against Mumbai Indians, following a string of below-par scores.

Captain Raina has two fifties in two games since becoming a father. On Tuesday, Lions will hope that the law of averages finally catches up with Kohli. But the same law of averages might mean de Villiers, after scores of 6 and 0 in the last two games, is due for a big one.

On paper, there appears to be no respite. But Lions are more than capable of making their own luck.

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