Despite Royal Challengers Bangalore losing their sixth game of the season, and needing to win their remaining four to possibly make the playoffs, batsman KL Rahul has said the team was peaking as the 2016 IPL approached its business end. RCB were sixth in the standings after their six-wicket defeat to Mumbai Indians at home on Wednesday.
"The plans are clear, we need to win all our games," Rahul said. "I honestly believe that the team is peaking - the batting has come together, we're fielding well, we're taking some good catches, the bowling is getting better and better with each game. We need to win four out of four. We're going to go out there and play fearless cricket."
Rahul was pushed down the order against Mumbai, in spite of enjoying success as an opener in previous games, to accommodate the returning Chris Gayle, who was out for 5. Gayle has been dismissed for less than ten in all seven innings since his century against England in the World T20, but Rahul urged support for the West Indies batsman.
"Chris is dangerous up the order and we all know if he fires he can get us to 200-250 on any wicket, on any ground," Rahul said. "You back a guy like Chris Gayle to go out there and give his best for the team. You can't always expect him to deliver; sometimes it doesn't happen."
The ball did not come onto the bat on Wednesday night, as it usually does at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, forcing the batsmen to manufacture shots. After Virat Kohli stabbed Mitchell McClenaghan to fly slip and Gayle toe-ended Tim Southee to mid-off, left-arm spinning allrounder Krunal Pandya suffocated RCB further with the joint-second best spell - in terms of economy (3.75) - by a spinner bowling a full quota at this venue.
"After losing Virat and Chris early, we had to obviously change plans," Rahul said. "The wicket was sticky, it was a bit damp, and it wasn't easy to start hitting the ball right away. That's what me and AB discussed - to take our time initially and if we batted out ten overs, then we could look at a target after that."
Rahul had come in to bat at the fall of Gayle's wicket in the fourth over and went on to make his fourth half-century - and best score - of the season: 68 off 53 balls. He and de Villiers added 43 in 6.3 overs for the third wicket before Krunal dismissed de Villiers for 24 off 27 balls. Rahul also overcame an ankle niggle to ramp up the pace in the end overs, leading RCB to 151, which he thought was an "ideal score".
"After the loss of the first two wickets, we decided to get around 140-150, which was an ideal score," Rahul said. "150 was what we discussed during the strategic time-out. We were happy with what we got. In the second innings it got easier to bat."
Mumbai's chase boiled down to them needing 55 off the last five overs and then they lost Ambati Rayudu for 44 off 47 balls. Kieron Pollard and Jos Buttler, however, ran down the target with eight balls to spare.
The RCB captain Virat Kohli, who had been dismissed for his first single-digit score of the season, said his team had been about 20 runs short, and that he would relish the pressure of the remaining matches. "We will literally play knockouts now and I love this situation," he said.