Royal Challengers in final after de Villiers' rescue act
Royal Challengers Bangalore 159 for 6 (de Villiers 79*, Abdulla 33*, Kulkarni 4-14, Jadeja 2-21) beat Gujarat Lions 158 (Smith 73, Watson 4-29, Abdulla 2-38) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Tumbling wickets. A high but not out-of-reach asking rate. One specialist batsman at the crease, with only the lower order for company. An atypically dry and grippy pitch provided the conditions for such a situation - usually more common in 50-overs cricket than in T20 - to arise in the first Qualifier of IPL 2016. AB de Villiers was the specialist batsman, and when Iqbal Abdulla joined him in the 10th over of Royal Challengers Bangalore's chase of 159, they needed 91 to win off 62 balls with four wickets in hand.
The Chinnaswamy surface - still good to bat on, but slower than usual - had torn up the script that the match had been expected to follow. There was no uncontrollable torrent of run scoring from either set of top-order batsmen. Gujarat Lions were 9 for 3 after being sent in. Then in the chase, Royal Challengers lost Virat Kohli for a duck and slipped to 29 for 5. Then, when Ravindra Jadeja had Stuart Binny lbw sweeping - though replays showed ball hitting pad marginally outside off stump - they were 68 for 6.
It began drizzling soon after Abdulla's entrance, with Royal Challengers needing 63 from 36 balls. De Villiers was at the non-striker's end. Abdulla, on 8 off 14, slashed at a gentle, back-of-a-length ball from Dwayne Smith, and missed. Kohli - who had struggled to contain his temper right through the game - gestured angrily from the dugout, telling Abdulla to take a single and give de Villiers the strike.
Abdulla steered the next ball to deep point. De Villiers, on 47, faced Smith now. He stepped down the pitch, Smith shortened his length, and a tennis-style flat-bat hit flew to the straight boundary. The next ball was fuller, and de Villiers miscued his lofted hit, skewing it high, with the outside half of his bat. It was a rare mis-hit in an innings of surface-defying fluency. It may have been caught at long-off in a bigger ground, but it cleared the leaping Aaron Finch in Bangalore.
It seemed like a sign. This would be de Villiers' day. On strike to the first ball of the next over, he shuffled across to off stump even before Shadab Jakati released his left-arm dart. Having covered the line, he quickly sunk to one knee and swung the ball away over the square leg boundary. When Abdulla swatted a mis-hit six of his own later in the over, Royal Challengers had the final in their sights, needing only 35 off 25. They got home with 10 balls left to play, with de Villiers having just enough time to unfurl a couple more spectacular shots, the pick of them a reverse-sweep off a Praveen Kumar delivery pitching outside leg stump. The win took Royal Challengers into the final, while Gujarat Lions will have another crack at it when they take on the winner of Wednesday's Eliminator between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders.
Abdulla played a key role with the ball too, dismissing Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch in the second over of Lions' innings after Kohli had sent them in. Kohli may have used his left-arm spinner that early simply because two right-handers were opening for Lions, and two left-handers were waiting in the middle order, but he may also have observed that the pitch was unusually dry.
Whatever the case, he had extra cover on the rope and mid-off in the circle for McCullum, and the charging New Zealander failed to reach the pitch of the ball, and sharp turn forced him to slice wider than intended, into the hands of the fielder at long-off. Finch closed his bat-face too early three balls later, and the ball popped up to slip. When Shane Watson bounced Raina out in the fourth over, Lions were 9 for 3, sinking even before the contest had really begun.
Dwayne Smith had swapped batting slots with Finch in Lions' last game, against Mumbai Indians, and had looked in fluent touch while making a calm, unbeaten 37 to steer them home in a chase of 173. He struck the ball just as well here, in a more difficult situation, picking up a pair of boundaries off Abdulla early in his innings, sitting back and pouncing when he dropped marginally short, and following up with a hooked six off Chris Jordan.
But the effect of a poor Powerplay - Gujarat only made 23 in that period - rippled through the rest of their innings. Lions' run rate remained under six an over even after Smith and Dinesh Karthik plundered 16 off the 10th, bowled by Yuzvendra Chahal. It was still under seven when they tonked Abdulla for 17 in the 13th over. Karthik fell in the 14th, middling an attempted fine-leg scoop onto his leg stump, Ravindra Jadeja followed in the 16th, and Smith - having hit two more leg-side sixes in that time - holed out in the 18th.
The runs still kept coming, Watson conceding 21 and picking up two wickets in an incident-packed 19th, and Lions scored 100 in their last 10 overs.
A total of 158 still looked inadequate given Royal Challengers' batting strength, but Dhawal Kulkarni had run a battering ram through their top order within four overs of the chase. First, Kohli played on, trying to cut without moving his feet. Then Gayle, pushed back with a series of short balls, swung across the line of a slower ball and missed. Then came an all-format jaffa that swerved away from just short of a good length and induced KL Rahul to edge to slip.
Jadeja then got in the act, getting the ball to stop on Watson, who swatted across the line too soon. And when Sachin Baby slapped Kulkarni straight to short cover, Royal Challengers were gasping for air, the Powerplay not yet done. But they still had de Villiers.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo