Yash Dayal
Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s players celebrate after Yash Dayal (second left) dismissed Chennai Super Kings’ MS Dhoni during the Indian Premier League cricket match on May 18, 2024. Dayal conceded only 7 runs in his final over to craft RCB’s victory. Image Credit: AFP

Royal Challengers Bengaluru in the playoffs! Would you believe that? When the Indian Premier League crossed the halfway stage, RCB were struggling. Even the die-hard Bengaluru supporters had written them off after having lost seven of their first eight matches. Memes about their inability to win flooded social media.

It was indeed a nightmare. With a dream spell of six consecutive victories, Bengaluru turned the tables on their rivals to land a place in the eliminators. The crucial win came on the home turf of M. Chinnswamy Stadium on Saturday, making it doubly sweet. More satisfying is that it came at the expense of archrivals and champions Chennai Super Kings.

Drama, there was plenty in the “Southern Derby”. The rain that threatened to wash out the game stayed away; a no-result would have gifted the last-four spot to Chennai. The RCB total of 218 seemed adequate when six Chennai wickets fell, and they needed 35 off 12 balls to qualify (53 to win). But when Mahendra Singh Dhoni was at the crease, anything could happen.

How Yash Dayal lifted RCB

It still needed a miracle. The CSK hopes rose with Ravindra Jadeja’s blitzkrieg. Remember his final over heroics in last year’s final. The left-hander raised visions of another spellbinding finish as CSK took 18 off the penultimate over. With only 17 needed from 6 balls to qualify (35 for a win), Dhoni’s magic conjured a six off the first ball, and the target became 10 from 5 balls. The CSK qualification was only two strikes away.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And Yash Dayal turned up for RCB. He dismissed Dhoni and conceded just one run as chants of R-C-B rent the Bengaluru stadium. Red and Gold flags fluttered in the stands as Bengaluru celebrated a 27-run win.

It was a total team effort. While Virat Kohli (47), Faf du Plessis [54), Rajat Patidar (41) and Cameron Green (38) provided the runs, Glenn Maxwell (1-25) and Mohammad Siraj (1-35) turned in tidy spells. And Dayal delivered the coup de grace.

After the rejoicing, when RCB takes stock of their performance ahead of the playoffs, they will find familiar failings. Bowling continues to be their Achilles heel, especially in the slog overs. When the equation is 10 from 5 balls, the game could go either way; fortunately, Dayal held his nerve. That won’t happen all the time.

The fact is that RCB bowling is fragile, although it has improved signficantly. Siraj has rediscovered his form, and Dayal has been good at the death overs. Swapnil Singh’s left-arm spin remains steady. The rest has been a prayer. But Green has stepped up, and Maxwell’s return boosts the spin options.

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So how did Bengaluru turn around their campaign? They owe it to their batting strength, where Kohli has been simply superb. He leads the scoring charts with 708 runs from 14 games at a strike rate of 155.60. Skipper Du Plessis has 421 (SR 168.81). Their opening stands have been a feature of RCB wins. They will need support from the rest, just like on Saturday, if Bengaluru has to harbour ambitions of a maiden title.

Can Bengaluru win the elusive championship? Yes, if they sort out the bowling. Otherwise, teams like Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders will blow them away with their mighty batting. So I won’t put my money on them.

Six wins in a row for RCB, that’s amazing. Let’s salute the greatest comeback in IPL history.