Royal Challengers Bangalore made four changes for their game against Kolkata Knight Riders. Tim Southee finally turned up at the 2018 IPL, while Manan Vohra and M Ashwin were also thrown into the mix. But there was one forced change, and that left a smile on the faces of the KKR bowlers.
A viral infection forced AB de Villiers to miss Sunday’s game at the Chinnaswamy, and the void showed in the RCB batting. At 74 for 1 after 9.4 overs, RCB had the platform to launch into the KKR attack. But with only a handful of experienced batsmen to follow, their No. 3 Virat Kohli opted to play cautiously, scoring only 20 runs off his first 18 balls. If de Villiers was playing, Kohli’s approach would perhaps have been different, and RCB might have begun accelerating slightly earlier.
There’s also the aspect of mental pressure that KKR did not have to deal with. Instead of having to bowl against two of the world’s most feared T20 batmen, they had to now bowl at just the one.
“Yeah, it’s obviously a couple of smiles on the bowler’s faces,” Chris Lynn said, when asked how his team reacted to the news of de Villiers’ absence. “We know AB, in the form he is, is always a dangerous batsman but we couldn’t take the foot off the throat because Baz (Brendon McCullum) is such a good striker of the ball. [We had] a little half-smile but we knew we still had a job at hand.”
There were no smiles for RCB, though, who slipped to seventh on the points table after their loss, and when asked if de Villiers was missed, the man who replaced him was quick to agree.
“We definitely missed AB de Villiers,” McCullum said. “He’s probably the best player in the world and one of the best we’ve seen in the history of the game, so for him to be absent was a huge blow for us. He’s a tough customer as well, so obviously he’s pretty ill to not take the field today.
“He’s desperate to get out there, so hopefully he’ll be back in the next game. He’s such a key player for us, and such a good leader. A good man to have around.”
RCB would want de Villiers to be fit when they face Mumbai Indians on Tuesday. It’s a virtual must-win for both sides since they’re both tied on four points after seven games. After that the terrain gets tougher since RCB go on the road for four straight away games, but looking ahead, McCullum still believes his team can win the IPL.
“It’s tough when you’re losing a few games, and not getting the results you want, but you just have to be strong in your own group’s mind on what you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Some people may doubt you, none of that matters, you just have to believe amongst your group that you have the ability to be standing there at the end of the competition with a trophy in your hand.
“We’re going to go on the road soon, and it’ll be nice to get a win before we get on the road. We’re going to have to do it tough, and that’s our fault because we didn’t get the results earlier.”
RCB did this in 2015 and 2016, when they strung together a series of wins to make a late surge into the playoffs. And with two other teams on the same number of points as them, RCB are just one win away from putting pressure on the fifth-placed Rajasthan Royals and fourth-placed KKR.
“The environment at RCB is fantastic,” McCullum said. “Now’s the time to stay tight as a unit, delivering on our potential as players, and then transitioning that into points.”
With de Villiers expected to be fit for the Tuesday game, perhaps the back end of the season is when RCB will – once again – make their mark.