In a campaign that has included matches insipid and inspiring Royal Challengers Bangalore have well and truly come to life. Maintaining the momentum of three consecutive wins, they pulled the rug from under Deccan Chargers' feet and went to No. 3 in the points table, setting up a semi-final clash with the Chennai Super Kings on Saturday. Deccan will play Delhi Daredevils in Friday's semi-final.
At the end of a clinical win, Bangalore can thank Manish Pandey and RP Singh. Promoting Pandey to open in a pressure situation, Bangalore nearly lost him in the third over but RP's gross misjudgment at third man settled the nerves and then some. Either cutting solidly or swatting and slapping with efficiency rather than grace, Pandey grabbed the opportunity and notched up just the second century this season - and the first by an Indian in either season. Few in South Africa would have heard of the Under-19 batsman before today but should remember him after this amazing effort.
Teams have struggled to defend under lights at Centurion, and Bangalore were put on the backfoot as Herschelle Gibbs waded into the attack. But Anil Kumble took pace off the ball and once Gibbs and Andrew Symonds were dismissed in relative succession it all got too tough for Deccan.
RP's drop in the third over came after Jacques Kallis pulled his seventh ball to short square leg. It proved a costly error. Pandey began his innings looking out of sorts, twice inside-edging Ryan Harris on the bounce to Adam Gilchrist and top-edging safely to third man. Batting as though Bangalore needed to chase 250, Pandey clouted the ball through the leg side with abandon.
Roelof van der Merwe showed a liking for RP on the leg side, twice crashing him over through and over mid-on for boundaries, and weighed in with 23 from 18 balls. After he was well stumped off Symonds in the tenth over, Pandey weighed the situation and hung on. By this time he was 33, and on resumption after the strategic break dumped T Suman's offspin for consecutive sixes to raise his half-century. Now his timing had improved considerably and Bangalore were going at seven an over.
Very strong through the leg side, Pandey's main scoring option was the swipe across the line. RP returned to bowl the 14th over and Pandey reminded him of his reprieve, swatting and edging fours. He continued the same way after Pragyan Ojha accounted for Rahul Dravid in the next over, clearing his front leg and slogging against the turn. The caress - Pandey steered Jaskaran for four - was followed by the clubbed - next ball disappeared for six - and the fortuitous - an edge beat Gilchrist for four - as Pandey moved to 98 at the end of the 17th over.
The landmark came up with a couple wide of long-on and there wasn't much fanfare. Virat Kohli took a cue and pulled six more, followed by a top edge that dropped safely between two clueless fielders, and deposited the last ball over the ropes. That last over summed up the course the two teams had run.
With Gilchrist struggling for timing, Gibbs took over the responsibility of scoring and did so in inimitable fashion. He survived a shout against an Kumble topspinner when on 5 but didn't refrain from walking across his stumps, lapping and pulling the bowlers to distraction. Kallis hobbled off with a troublesome hamstring and Gibbs decided to take on Praveen Kumar. The first two balls were short-arm-flicked for sixes, the third was lapped for four, and Gilchrist put away a low full toss. Gibbs then dismissed van der Merwe for a couple of sixes upon introduction. Taking full toll of the half-volleys and stray balls that were on offer, Gibbs blasted 45 of the 68 runs added by the openers, lashing boundaries on both sides of the wicket.
He was dropped on 49 - soon after Gilchrist went for 15 - but didn't do much damage after Deccan went into the strategic break on a healthy 85 for 1. Symonds walked out in the 11th over after Kumble got Suman, and Rohit Sharma followed him in second ball of the 15th when Gibbs lost his grip and skied one to a tumbling Pandey in the deep. With 52 needed in five, Kumble called back van der Werwe and he bowled Symonds first ball. The pressure was on Rohit and Venugopal Rao but neither contributed; Rao was run out in the 18th over and in the next Rohit lofted Kumble to a very calm Kohli at long-on. The 26 needed off the final over was too much.
Bangalore showed an intensity that indicated how keen they were to erase the loss from the last time these two teams met. Pandey has said he would like to join the army, like his father, if he is unable to become a professional cricketer. If he can score hundreds like this going forward he won't need to reach for that application form.