Champions League T20 Champions, almost
The Royal Challengers Bangalore lost to the Mumbai Indians by 31 runs in the 2011 Champions League T20 Final at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Sunday night.
The team's best bowling performance in the tournament, spearheaded by Dirk Nannes' 1/14 helped RCB bowl out MI for 139 but the batsmen found the going hard, being bowled out for 108 in reply.
Two IPL teams had made it to the final of the CLT20 for the first time and both had made an amazing journey to the final, Mumbai battling injuries to numerous key players and Bangalore fighting back splendidly after being at the bottom of the points table halfway through the Group stage.
One crucial element of the game was the pitch at the Chepauk. Chennai Super Kings had made it their fortress in the 2011 IPL season, going unbeaten on the slow turner but the pitch had been relaid since then and lost all predictability, baffling even the defending champions who failed to assess the pitch properly and crashed out in the group stage.
Mumbai Indians had played 3 of their 5 games so far on this pitch, winning 2 and losing one while it was RCB’s first game here after playing all their games at the truer pitch of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore where even the boundaries are shorter. It was a challenge they were up for.
It was on this pitch that the Mumbai Indians won a crucial toss and chose to bat first. As on Friday, Dilshan opened the bowling but MI’s batsmen were up for the challenge, finishing what was a good over with a six to take 9 off it. They were handed an advantage soon though as Sarul Kanwar watched the ball smashed by Aiden Blizzard travel towards mid off instead of taking a single. With both the batsmen at the same end, Blizzard was run out. Kanwar followed him two overs later at the end of Nannes’ fiery opening spell, beaten for pace as his stumps were uprooted leaving MI at 24/2 after 4 overs.
Rayudu and Franklin put together 41 brisk runs before Rayudu was caught at the edge of the inner circle by Chris Gayle, trying to clear extra cover.
James Franklin dropped anchor, collecting 41 runs unnoticed with regular hits, a bonus for MI considering how hard timing the ball correctly was proving to be. Yadav too attacked Dilshan to spike up the run rate. Vettori returned and the skipper replied to being hit for a six by running out Yadav off the next ball, triggering the slide in which 4 wickets fell for 4 runs in 11 balls, accounting for Franklin, Pollard and Harbhajan.
Malinga and Sathish’s mini fightback helped MI reach 135 in the 19th over but were both gone by the end of the over to Rajoo Bhatkal. Aravind capped off the innings with the wicket of Chahal off the last ball as MI finished with 139, a total RCB would have backed themselves to get, especially after their two record chases in the preceding matches.
Dilshan got to the task of giving RCB a quick start, attacking Malinga and Abu Nechim taking the total to 38/0 after 4 overs. Harbhajan Singh didn’t take off Malinga however, bringing him back for a third over and the move immediately paid off, the slinger sliding one under Dilshan’s attempt to crash it across the line.
Dilshan had negated Malinga so far and his recent record against Harbhajan is pretty good but with him gone, MI had a chance to focus on Gayle. Harbhajan brought himself into the attack against Gayle and immediately the pitch threw up a big surprise, the ball turning almost square. Gayle was watchful, playing the ball late and going a long way out to negate a LBW decision but it didn’t work. He was given leg before off the last ball of Harbhajan’s over, the ball hadn’t turned as much as the previous ones and had struck him a long way out of the crease. Hawkeye showed it to be hitting off stump, a dodgy simulation considering the distance the ball had left to travel after the point of impact but nevertheless, umpire Kumar Dharmasena ruled it out, handing Mumbai a big advantage.
The chase was now on Kohli’s shoulders considering how underexposed the middle order had been in RCB’s previous two games and he stripped his game down for it. The pitch was slow and the batsmen had to generate the power to get the ball past the inner circle. Kohli had to be cautious even against the medium pace of Kieron Pollard and found the going tough with boundaries hard to come by. To make it tougher, Mayank Agarwal’s attempt to increase the run rate only went as far as long off where Pollard struggled and juggled but held on to complete a catch. With just 30 runs coming off the last six overs, Kohli had no choice but to hit out and went for the big hit off Harbhajan in the 12th over. The longer boundary meant that he was caught at deep midwicket, putting a big dent on the RCB chase.
Arun Karthik too tried going for the big hit in the next over but was held at the edge of the circle towards mid off as the mishit lobbed high in the air. The absolute lack of pace on the pitch had the batsmen in trouble as eminently hittable deliveries resulted in wickets but to give credit where it’s due, MI’s fielding made their small total formidable as they threw themselves all over the ground to save every boundary and keep every possible second run from being taken.
Mohammad Kaif and Saurabh Tiwary kept collecting the singles which were getting harder to come by, the batspeed of the batsmen often beating the ball for pace as Pollard did a good job of slowing down the pace to accentuate the discomfort. The required run rate had crept up to 12 by the 16th over when Kaif swung hard at a Pollard delivery, the ball arrived later than he had anticipated and the slice was caught at cover. With time running out, Vettori attacked his counterpart Harbhajan in the next over but only ended up stranded down the track to be stumped by Rayudu.
Tiwary’s uncomfortable but determined vigil, painfully similar to his one in the IPL final earlier this year ended in the next over while Aravind and Bhatkal departed in the next two overs as RCB were bowled out for 108 in 19.2 overs, MI completing a 31 run win to lift the 2011 CLT20 trophy.
It was heartbreak for the whole unit after their remarkable rise to reach the final from being bereft of points halfway into the group stage. More so for Virat Kohli who has been a part of the team’s 3 runner up and 2 semifinal finishes in 7 tournaments.
As team owner Dr. Mallya remarked in an interview after the match, the team had fought hard over the past three weeks, they didn’t give up when they were down and had made CLT20 history in their resurgence so RCB had grown incredibly as a unit and deserved to be proud even in defeat.
Cricket like any other sport has its fortune swings, more so in the distilled, intensely concentrated T20 form where often it’s only a question of being the better team on the day. RCB can take pride in the fact that they were the absolute best on a number of days in this tournament and in others before this. They have been a consistently good side, silverware or not and will step on the field in their next campaign knowing that they are one of the best.