From the 17th over onward in Mumbai Indians’ run-chase on Monday, the only thing that stood between Royal Challengers Bangalore and a second defeat in this Indian Premier League season was Navdeep Saini.
Virat Kohli brought on Adam Zampa to bowl the 17th over. Ishan Kishan was batting on 70 off 48 at that time but more threateningly, Kieron Pollard had settled in at 11 off 10. Mumbai still had a mountain to climb with 80 runs needed to win off 24 balls but with Rahul Tewatia’s Houdini act fresh in everyone’s memory, the game was still very much on.
Zampa was taken for 27 runs as Pollard jumped into fifth gear, before Yuzvendra Chahal’s figures were ruined as another 22 runs were added in the 18th over.
Kohli knew that with newcomer Isuru Udana left to bowl the final over, it was up to Saini to check the MI onslaught in the penultimate over and leave a cushion for the last six deliveries.
And that’s exactly what Saini did. He bowled a wide to start off and later got hit for a six but in the other five balls, he only conceded a single each. In the context of the match, with Udana then leaking 18 runs and RCB hanging on for a Super Over, Saini’s effort under pressure was phenomenal.
But that was only part one of the 27-year-old’s heroics, the best was yet to come.
For the Super Over, MI sent out Pollard and Hardik Pandya – two of the most devastating hitters in the game. The duo, however, had no answer to Saini’s brilliance.
The right-arm quick began with a wide yorker (one run), then bowled a low full-toss at the stumps (one run), then one full and wide (no run), then a low full-toss at the stumps (four runs), followed by another straight full-toss (wicket), and finished with a full delivery wide of off-stump (one bye).
RCB were left with a target of just eight runs and the fate of the match was all but sealed. It was fast bowling of the highest quality from Saini. His thought process didn’t waver, he didn’t attempt to bluff the batsmen, and stuck to his guns with precision.
“I had many plans in my head for the Super Over, but in the end, I decided to simply back my strength,” Saini said after the game. “After getting hit for a boundary, all I wanted to do was close out the over with singles or doubles.”
Saini added: “I thought about mixing it up (bowling a bouncer) but then decided to stick to my strength which is bowling a yorker. I have worked hard at it. I knew Hardik would try and hit the last ball across, he wouldn’t try to place it somewhere. So it was all about showing one field but bowling something else. Glad I could execute my plan.”
Big concern for RCB
In the post-match presentation ceremony, skipper Kohli said that RCB need to work on their fielding. “If we’d taken our chances, it wouldn’t have been so close,” he said.
However, the fact of the matter is that RCB’s biggest weakness at the moment is their bowling.
They made two changes to their bowling department for the MI game. Dale Steyn and Umesh Yadav, both of whom were expensive in the first two games, were replaced by Adam Zampa and Isuru Udana.
While Zampa removed the dangerous Hardik and Udana got Suryakumar Yadav early, both of them were hit for plenty of runs and finished with figures of 1/53 and 2/45 respectively. They may be persisted with but Kohli would definitely expect a lot more from them.
As things stand, RCB have three bowlers they can trust. Saini can be used early on and at the death, Chahal has been impressive in the middle overs, and Washington Sundar showed against MI how effective he can be in the powerplay. But the remaining eight overs of the innings are a big concern.
The Royal Challengers have a history of struggling to contain onslaughts. And sadly for them, the season so far has been all about huge totals. The three grounds being used in the UAE are all conducive for power-hitting and Sharjah especially, is proving to be a graveyard for bowlers.
RCB have bowling options in Steyn, Umesh, Zampa, Udana, Shivam Dube, Mohammed Siraj, Moeen Ali, Pawan Negi, Chris Morris, and Shahbaz Ahmed. They need to quickly figure out from where they’ll get those eight overs.