Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
After his bowlers failed to defend 175 with almost two overs remaining, the first thing Virat Kohli was asked at the post-match presentation was whether he and Chris Gayle could have approached their partnership differently. This after Royal Challengers Bangalore added 116 in the last nine overs. It said everything about the make-up of a side that relies heavily on three outstanding batsmen and expects its revolving door of bowlers to throw up four or five who will keep the opposition just in check, somehow.
Admittedly, it was a rather slow build-up from Royal Challengers, at 58 for 1 after 11 overs. But in most cases, any side that goes on to score at over two runs a ball for nearly half its innings can be forgiven for that go-slow. Unless, they have taken it too easy on an absolute belter, which the Chinnaswamy pitch wasn't at all in the first innings. Yes, Royal Challengers did not have the best of starts but even in hindsight, it is difficult to blame Gayle and Kohli for the loss to Kings XI Punjab.
The pitch changed character as the match progressed. It started as a slow, low surface on which some good length deliveries from the Kings XI quick bowlers went around shin height. It would not have been out of place in a Test match at the Kotla. Adam Gilchrist, the Kings XI captain, said at the presentation he'd started to wonder if he'd made the correct decision to bowl, given the way the pitch behaved at the start. Gilchrist expected it would get slower and lower, and began to have second thoughts about batting second, but eventually found out it came on a lot better under lights.
When the game began, Gayle just could not find any timing at all. He swung at and missed length balls a couple of times, something that does not happen often to him. He tried getting under a few to launch them over long-on but they just wouldn't come on. He was struggling to connect even with the nudge to square leg, a tactic he uses all the time to rotate strike at the start, when he is sizing up things.
Where Royal Challengers do miss out, during the few overs Gayle takes to build, is by having someone like Cheteshwar Pujara at the other end. Pujara himself likes some time to get going. Having a Tillakaratne Dilshan - when in form - or an aggressive batsman to partner Gayle does not allow the innings to stall from both ends at the beginning.
Coming back to Gayle's knock, despite being on 22 off 30 at one stage, he found enough rhythm towards the end to finish with 77 off 53, a strike-rate of 145-plus. Kohli was able to accelerate smoothly as well. As Kohli said at the presentation, if you'd put up 174 on that pitch batting first, you'd done well.
When Kings XI came out, it was a different surface. Gilchrist managed mostly mishits for the major part of his innings, but they cleared the infield. They probably wouldn't have if he was batting first. Azhar Mahmood could not pick a Muttiah Muralitharan doosra but was still able to power it flat over long-on. It would have been tough to clear the fielder if Mahmood was batting first.
If the pitch had changed, so had the attack - an attack that few defending captains will feel safe with. Kohli said at the start of the season that Royal Challengers knew there was a weakness in the attack and had gone on a fast-bowler buying spree. Still, you get that old feeling of sameness with the Royal Challengers attack. And the foreboding sense that somehow, a bowler or two will have an off day and will leak runs throughout.
They bowl short when they don't have the pace to hurry batsmen. They bowl length from which they disappear for sixes. They don't hit the blockhole often, though that is something all bowling sides in the IPL are guilty of. Further, Kohli had chosen the insurance of an extra batsman in Arun Karthik at the expense of a fast bowler. So when two of his bowlers went for runs, he had no back-up.
The expectations though, as the question at the presentation showed, were heaped on the Royal Challengers batsmen. Could they have gone harder earlier? Could they have targeted, say 200? With an attack that conceded 176 for 3 in 18.1 overs, it probably wouldn't have mattered even then.