Marsh leads nine-wicket mauling
The troubles don't seem to abate for the Bangalore Royal Challengers; off-field controversies plagued the bottom-placed side going into the match against Kings XI Punjab, and a nine-wicket mauling in Mohali leaves the second-most expensive franchise in the IPL all but out of the semi-finals.
On a hard deck suited for strokeplay, Bangalore's batsmen once again failed to fire, and after they were restricted to 143, the chase was a mere formality. Shaun Marsh, though, didn't show any mercy on a hapless opposition, and his unbeaten 74 completed an emphatic nine-wicket win, pushing his team to second place .
After Rahul Dravid, an under-pressure Bangalore captain, decided to bat, Misbah-ul-Haq and Virat Kohli gave a glimmer of hope that the side's top-order woes had come to an end. But unfortunately, both batsmen failed to capitalise on their starts.
Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan got the ball to swing early: Pathan's first over was a maiden, while J Arunkumar was done in by some extra bounce from Sreesanth. That brought in Misbah, who managed to hit two short balls from Sreesanth for four, though not convincingly. At the other end, Kohli dispatched Pathan for successive fours. Misbah then launched Sreesanth just over the long-off boundary, but the four that followed was among the best in the tournament, as Misbah made room to a full delivery on middle, got down on his knee and majestically drove the ball square. But next ball he was out in bizarre fashion, as he somehow trod onto the stumps while pushing a Sreesanth delivery to the off side.
Yuvraj took a gamble by bringing Piyush Chawla in the final Powerplay over, and though he started by straying on leg, he bowled Kohli after the batsman had swept him twice to the boundary. Once Misbah and Kohli exited, Bangalore failed to keep up the momentum. VRV Singh slipped in a couple of economical overs, and Chawla got his second wicket when he ran towards midwicket to complete a splendid catch off a top-edge from Cameron White.
Dravid once again was unable to improvise as required in the Twenty20 format, and his 27-ball 29 will do little to silence the critics. As in the previous game against Chennai Super Kings, Punjab's bowlers were largely right on the mark at the end. VRV followed up his miserly first spell, in which he gave just eight, with an exceptional second, conceding one less than in his first. He mostly kept it straight, putting in the occasional short delivery, and towards the end he relied primarily on yorkers.
Bangalore needed to strike early to put pressure on Punjab, but the Australian duo of Shaun Marsh and James Hopes got the home side off to a confident start. Hopes gave the innings the early momentum, hitting three sixes, but another attempt at clearing long-off against Vinay Kumar was caught by a diving Dale Steyn.
Marsh, the in-form player, was quiet during the Powerplay overs, and he was lucky as substitute fielder Bharat Chipli grassed one at mid-off when he was on 12. He took on Anil Kumble in his first over, sending one over long-off, as Punjab motored to 70 for 1 after ten. Steyn was brought back to stem the flow, but leaked more runs: Marsh smashed the first delivery through extra cover for four, lifted the next over the square boundary, and then swatted one straight over mid-off's head. A frustrated Steyn then got one in the blockhole, but Marsh deftly sneaked it past the wicketkeeper.
Marsh's fifty came off a single in the same over, and a deflated Bangalore side could do nothing much to stop Punjab from then on. Luke Pomersbach, playing his first game, also took a liking for Kumble, carting him for two sixes and a four. Kumble, who is yet to take a wicket in the IPL, even resorted to seam-up, but Marsh late-cut it delightfully.
With victory in sight, Marsh and Pomersbach didn't relent, each hitting two boundaries as Zaheer Khan's final over, the penultimate of the game, went for 18. Marsh took a single to seal the deal with 4.2 overs remaining. With his unbeaten 74, Marsh now has a Bradmanesque average of 98.33 in the IPL, and if he continues in the same vein, a semi-final slot shouldn't be a headache for Punjab, who are already sitting pretty at 12 points from nine games.
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo