Bowlers, Kanika Ahuja set up Royal Challengers' first win
They keep their slim hopes alive in WPL after Devine, Perry and Asha star with the ball against Warriorz
Royal Challengers Bangalore 136 for 5 (Ahuja 46, Ghosh 31*) beat UP Warriorz 135 all out (Harris 46, Perry 3-16, Devine 2-23, Asha 2-27) by five wickets
Finally, Royal Challengers Bangalore have won a match in the Women's Premier League.
After five matches and countless questions, Smriti Mandhana and Co got their first win, beating UP Warriorz by five wickets with two overs to spare at the DY Patil Stadium.
And it was Kanika Ahuja, a 20-year-old uncapped Indian, who shone with the bat for them. Not the most expensive player in the WPL (Mandhana). Not the most experienced allrounder in T20I cricket (Ellyse Perry). Not one of the international captains in their ranks (Sophie Devine and Heather Knight).
Her explosive innings of 46 off 30 balls, when Royal Challengers were 60 for 4 after nine overs in the chase of 136, has kept the team alive in the competition. The left-hander, sent ahead of India international Richa Ghosh, stayed calm and eventually built a 60-run stand off 47 balls with Ghosh, who played second fiddle with an unbeaten 32-ball 31.
The only blip was that she couldn't complete a well-deserved fifty and see through the win, falling while trying to sweep Sophie Ecclestone.
But Wednesday was Royal Challengers' day from the beginning and it all worked out till the end despite regularly-programmed hiccups, like losing both the openers within two overs, Mandhana falling cheaply to an offspinner again and Perry and Knight playing avoidable shots.
Even before the game, it was established that this was Royal Challengers' last chance to stay in contention for the knockouts. They were still alive mathematically. But first, they had to put a number in the wins column.
Winning the toss and opting to bowl first, Mandhana threw the new ball to Devine, who has 110 wickets in 119 T20Is. Before this game, she had only bowled two overs in the WPL and was hit for runs. Devine last bowled in international cricket in December last year and her rustiness was visible in those two overs. However, the ploy actually worked as she got both openers Devika Vaidya and Alyssa Healy in the first over to set the tone. Megan Schutt then struck in the second over to dismiss Tahlia McGrath, giving Royal Challengers just the kind of shot in the arm they needed in a must-win game.
The great start seemed to give Royal Challengers renewed energy on the field. Their body language was better and it showed in the fielding effort too. They didn't let Warriorz build stands and at the halfway mark, leaving them reeling at 43 for 5.
Then came a moment that could have undone all that Royal Challengers had worked for. Mandhana took Perry out of the attack after her first two overs went for just seven runs and instead got offspinner Shreyanka Patil in to bowl.
That proved to be the first big over for Warriorz, with 15 runs coming off along with the team's fifty. Harris then blasted the next over off Asha Sobhana for 16, who had taken two wickets in her first two overs. The 50-run stand between Harris and Deepti Sharma came at almost run-a-ball. In between, Ghosh missed a stumping off Harris, and there was a dropped catch from Knight as well.
But just when it looked to be entering familiar territory for Royal Challengers, Perry came back in and dismissed both set batters in the same over and added one more in her next over. Eventually, Warriorz were bowled out for a below-par score of 135.
There are questions aplenty still: the effect of captaincy on Mandhana, the drastic fall in form for Renuka Singh, and whether can they win another two games.
But for now, they're still in the mix to make the knockouts, even if only just.