Net run rate deficit sparked urgency for Finch in chase
Royal Challengers Bangalore's batting in the 2017 IPL has hardly reinforced why they boast three of the five highest totals in IPL history. Out of the eight times they have batted this season, only thrice have they put up a total in excess of 150.
On the heels of the lowest-ever IPL total, RCB tumbled to 134 on Thursday night after another underwhelming performance against Gujarat Lions. With no IPL team having ever successfully defended a total of 150 or less in a completed innings at the Chinnaswamy, the best RCB could have done was pick up early wickets and hope Lions went into a shell.
They ticked the first box, reducing Lions to 23 for 2 in the fifth over. But any plans of applying the choke thereafter were thwarted by a rampaging Aaron Finch. Finch ran up the fastest half-century by a Lions batsman, off 22 balls, batting with a sense of urgency not necessarily associated with a chase of 135. As a result, Lions stormed home in 13.5 overs and RCB were consigned to another heavy defeat.
"Sometimes, in a small run chase, you can make the mistake of trying to bat slowly, and before you know, the run rate is 7, 8, 9 an over," Finch said. "It was a conscious effort to attack. We were just trying to get ahead of the run rate. So even if something did happen, there were a couple of guys behind myself and Suresh - Jadeja, Faulkner, Dinesh Karthik... if something went wrong, we could still pick up the pieces."
Then, there is the matter of net run rate that can leave teams twitchy when the various permutations come into play towards the end of the league stage. Languishing at the bottom with a NRR of -0.844, Lions have now sprung up two places, and the net run rate is considerably better at -0.360.
"At this stage, you still got to keep winning games," Finch said. "If you're in a position where you can really accelerate and make sure you finish as quickly as possible, it's great. We're lucky we got into a position like that tonight."
Lions' bowlers used the new ball well on a slightly spicy Chinnaswamy deck that had more pace than in previous games. Nathu Singh and Basil Thampi got the ball to jag around a bit. Andrew Tye's accuracy then hastened RCB's slide after the early loss of Virat Kohli. Tye got one to nip away from Chris Gayle to find the left-hander's outside edge. Next ball, he harried Travis Head by finding extra bounce from the back-of-a-length region, and had him edge to slip.
"Anytime you take wickets in the Powerplay, it's a huge bonus," Finch said. "That's just a part of the game that we've been missing. When we were down with pressure, we saw some misfields and a couple of catches going down in the past, but today was a pretty polished performance, and we saw some young quicks, Nathu and Basil, really stand up with the new ball against some of the best players to have ever played this format."
Lions threw in an element of surprise when they opted to open with the scratchy Ishan Kishan, who had been left out of their previous game. "We knew that they'd open with Badree, Chahal has been bowling in the Powerplay and Pawan Negi as well. It was a case of having a left-hander at the top," Finch explained.
Finch felt that the pitch exceeded their expectations. RCB's bowlers didn't help themselves by repeatedly erring in their lengths to him. While it was the in-between length that probed batsmen, Finch was offered a steady diet of fuller balls that he mowed over the short leg-side boundary, and short ones that were crunched off the backfoot.
"In the second innings, it came onto the bat nicely," Finch said. "Once the brand new ball was gone, there wasn't much extra bounce. We thought it would be a little bit low and slow, but it played a lot better and turned out to be a pretty good wicket."
Finch was also pleased with the team combination and reassured that Lions hadn't lost hope yet. "Coming to a place like Bangalore where the ball can travel around, to bring in the experience of James Faulkner was a good move. Obviously, he bowled beautifully.
"It was a very good performance from the team tonight. We've put ourselves in this position by being poor in a couple of games. We're still very confident, though. We have a good side, but time will tell."
Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo