Blazing Kallis gets Bangalore off the mark
At the halfway mark it seemed as if Kings XI Punjab had scored enough to record their first victory of the tournament, but Royal Challengers Bangalore went after the target with such vengeance that Punjab were punished for trespassing on private property. At the forefront of the chase was the reborn Twenty20 basher Jacques Kallis, who smashed an unbeaten 89, and playing valuable and entertaining supporting roles were Manish Pandey and Robin Uthappa.
One of Bangalore's adopted sons, Ross Taylor, wasn't around to send the ball soaring like he's done many times, but the power hitting from Kallis, Uthappa and Pandey more than made up for his absence. The batsmen with strong forearms thumped the ball with amazing velocity to fetch massive sixes, particularly over the on side, to deflate the bowling side and cut the target down to size.
Although Punjab were overpowered by a better batting side on the day, they could have restricted Bangalore had they bowled better lengths. The spinners in particular were guilty for dropping the ball on a length which sat up nicely for the batsmen to rock back and swing their arms. The fuller lengths didn't work and that was illustrated by one particular over from Sreesanth, which went for 25. The only way to restrict them was to either bowl yorkers or hurry them up with pace and bounce but Punjab didn't possess the bowlers to do either.
Kallis' biffing made the crowd delirious as Bangalore neared the target but the early entertainer was Pandey. The Ranji season's highest run-scorer earned a promotion and made it count by the sheer power of his strokes and using the crease. The ball was coming on nicely on to the bat and they had the freedom to hit across the line at will. A lightning quick straight drive nearly cleaned up the umpire and the bowler, Irfan Pathan, was smoked for two huge sixes over his head in his next over. Pathan was smacked for bowling it too full and when Yuvraj Singh held the length back, Pandey shoveled him over midwicket for a six.
Piyush Chawla sent him back for 38, trapping him with a quicker delivery and inducing a top edge. There was no respite for Punjab as Uthappa walked in and recorded the second-fastest fifty of the IPL. He rocked back and smacked Chawla with a powerful forehand, following it up with a delicate late cut. Abdulla was spanked over the second tier at deep midwicket but the more experienced Sreesanth suffered the worst treatment of the night. Uthappa cleared the front leg to smash three sixes and a four in five balls. Sangakkara was running out of options and at that stage he must have wondered of his team should have scored 250 instead.
Uthappa cut Bipul Sharma to bring up his fifty off 19 balls and tried to clear long-off in the same over but was safely caught by Mohammad Kaif. Bangalore still needed 61 off 36 balls at that stage but they had the safety net of Kallis. He matched Pandey and Uthappa for style and power, particularly those shots over midwicket. The ball was dumped over that region with such regular frequency that the crowd ought to have worn helmets.
Bangalore still needed 34 off the last three overs but didn't look like messing it up. Punjab were dazed and had virtually thrown in the towel. Sharma's first IPL experience was a nightmare as Kallis ripped him apart for 23 in the 18th over. It included three sixes and a feisty cut for four. Bangalore finished it with an over to spare and the Punjab dugout had nothing else to do but look on helplessly.
Such was the impact from Bangalore's batsmen that the seventies by Manvinder Bisla and Ravi Bopara were lost in memory. The fact that Bisla was an unknown quantity worked in his favour because the Bangalore bowlers didn't know what to expect. After an edgy start, Bisla quickly proved his doubters wrong. He looked far more comfortable against the slower pace of Kallis and R Vinay Kumar, regularly making room to slap the ball over backward point and third man. Following a sequence of off-side thumping, he showed his prowess on the on side, playing short-arm pulls off Kallis and a cheeky scoop over the wicketkeeper's head off Virat Kohli's gentle leg cutter.
When the pair brought up the fifty stand, Bopara's contribution was only 8. Even the experienced Kumble couldn't halt the momentum and the captain took a couple of blows to the body when he intercepted two full-blooded straight drives off Bopara. Bisla moved to 75 and looked to dump Kallis over deep midwicket but couldn't get the distance.
Bisla's innings was the best thing Bopara could have hoped for because it released the pressure off him. He survived a run-out early on 7 when Steyn's underarm flick missed the stumps while attempting a quick single. Bopara really opened up after the halfway mark of the innings, flat-batting Steyn to wide long-off and paddling Praveen to fine leg to bring up his fifty off 42 balls. The bowler went on to claim his wicket with a slower ball but by then, the total was headed towards 200. Audacious shots from Mahela Jayawardene ensured the flow wasn't disturbed. What Punjab didn't know at that stage was that it was only the curtain raiser for what was to come.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo