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RCB and KKR serve up a thriller with a different kind of tension

There was no animosity between the sides this time, but it was still an engrossing game

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
KKR versus RCB at Eden Gardens is often an eventful contest.
There was the infamous 49 all-out in 2017, and more recently 'lord' Shardul Thakur scored a brazen half-century to pull off a stunning rescue act.
On a sweltering Sundary afternoon, KKR and RCB played out another memorable game in Kolkata, and though nearly 450 runs were scored it wasn't your regular IPL run fest. In the end the contest was decided by... well, the barest of margins. With a wicketkeeper from England diving full length to break the stumps and run out a batter from New Zealand, who was attempting a second run off the final ball to take the match into a Super Over.
The heartbreak was once again RCB's to suffer as their season hurtles towards an early conclusion with their seventh loss in eight games. And yet, this hit different, because it was different from their feuds with KKR in the past.
Only a month ago, KKR's mentor Gautam Gambhir had said the "one team I wanted to beat every time and probably even in my dreams was RCB." But there he was, on the eve of the match, displaying camaraderie for the second time this season with Virat Kohli, whom he has had several feisty altercations with in the IPL.
The contest came alive nonetheless through Phil Salt's salvo in the powerplay, RCB's exceptional catching, and an exchange of blows that ensured that neither team stayed in control for too long. There was a flashpoint at the start of RCB's chase when Kohli's cameo - which included a no-look six off Mitchell Starc - was cut short by a high full toss that he felt should have been a no-ball, but the flaring of tempers died down once it was clear the decision was based on technology and not human intervention.
A 102-run stand for RCB's third wicket between Will Jacks and Rajat Patidar threatened to decide the game far too early. An ask of the nature of 86 off 54 balls with eight wickets in hand should have been straightforward in this extremely high-scoring season, but it is rarely so between RCB and KKR. Four wickets in the space of two overs, and the visitors were reeling.
Dinesh Karthik, who had scores of 53 not out and 83 in RCB's most recent defeats, brought the game down to 31 off 12 balls. One big over away from ending a run of five successive defeats. A finishing test a day after he expressed his desire to play the 2024 T20 World Cup for India. But when Karthik fell for an 18-ball 25, RCB still needed 21 off the final over with only two wickets in hand.
Mitchell Starc stood at the top of his mark. He'd been expensive all season and he'd gone for 36 in his first two overs on Sunday, but surely with Karn Sharma and Mohammed Siraj at the crease, the game was beyond RCB?
On a pitch where pace-off seemed the way to go, Starc trusted his Plan A: pace-on. He went full and he went fast, but he missed his lengths. The first ball of the final over to Karn was in the slot outside off stump and disappeared over the cover boundary. The second was similar too; this time it grazed the edge of Karn's big swing but the TV umpire decided the ball had bounced just before Salt collected it behind the stumps.
Yorker anybody? Or what about the bouncer? Sweat pouring off his face, his purple jersey clinging to his skin, Starc was on his haunches two balls in. He rose to deliver more of the same. Karn stayed inside his crease, cleared his front foot, and slammed the third and fourth deliveries over extra cover and point for sixes.
With only three to get off two balls, and RCB's hopes as high as they'd been all day, Starc found his length and delivered a yorker-length delivery. Karn connected with the toe of his bat and Starc bent down low to grab a sharp return catch with just one hand. Under pressure in oppressive conditions, he had managed to cling on when it mattered most.
It seemed to have taken plenty out of Starc but he managed to bowl a tight last ball, yorker-length and tailing away as Lockie Ferguson squeezed it to deep cover. The throw to the wicketkeeper was poor and it took an outstanding take and dive from Salt to break the stumps and leave RCB one run short of where they needed to be.
It was a strange contest, with 12 scores more than 15 but none higher than 55, the most in that range in any IPL game. And though it didn't have the headline performance that lingers in the memory, it did have the fight and the finish to further embellish the RCB-KKR rivalry.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo