Kohli’s eighth century is surpassed by Buttler’s sixth.

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Virat Kohli‘s eighth IPL century went in vain as Rajasthan Royals secured a comfortable six-wicket win to go four-from-four at the start of IPL 2024. It was the third time that Kohli’s IPL century came in a losing cause as Jos Buttler’s unbeaten sixth IPL ton – achieved off the last ball of the chase – and Sanju Samson breezy half-century helped Royals over the line with five balls to spare at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Saturday.

How good was Kohli’s innings?

There have been better and more fluent centuries Kohli has scored in the IPL. His innings was littered with shots that he couldn’t time as well as he would’ve liked partly down to the slightly tacky nature of the pitch in the first half of the match. There was ample intent to attack, but not every shot proved as effective as he would’ve liked. It took him 67 balls to reach the three-figure mark, the joint-slowest by anyone in IPL history.

He got going smoothly early on though, dictating terms in the powerplay. The acceleration began in the second over when he hit Nandre Burger over the mid on region for a boundary and then flicked another four through square leg. The region between deep square leg and deep mid wicket proved to be his most productive area from where he picked up nearly three-fourth of his runs. He even pulled Burger for a six in the pacer’s next over and provided RCB a strong start.

However, while he got off to a strong start and maintained their scoring rate, Kohli mentioned after his innings that it was decided that the pitch wasn’t as flat as it seemed from the outside and that they were forced to recalibrate the attempted total from 190 to 180 with one of the set openers batting till the end. Royals were also clever with their tactics. The pacers took the pace off consistently and bowled the short of good length, while the spinners also varied their pace and forced the batters to hit towards the longer boundary.

Every now and then, Kohli did manage to hit a few boundaries. He was particularly good against Avesh Khan in the death overs, slicing his yorker square of the wicket, flicking him through mid wicket, hitting straight down the ground and even through the cover region – all for boundaries. However, he didn’t get similar success against Burger in the end overs and the refusal to pick the extra runs while nearing his century ensured that RCB were restricted to 183 for 3 eventhough Kohli registered his joint-highest T20 score.

What was happening at the other end?

Faf du Plessis had got the innings going with a thumping drive over covers for four in the first over, and powered RCB to a fruitful opening partnership. Not only was it the first time this season that RCB had played out the powerplay without losing a wicket but they also blunted Royals’ attack, which had picked nine scalps in this period in their first three games.

In the company of Kohli, du Plessis added 125 runs for the opening wicket – the 47th century stand for the franchise and the second highest against Royals. While the RCB skipper was largely away from strike for most parts of the innings, he ensured the duo added more runs on the day and continued to score at rate of almost nine per over to set up a strong base for the rest of the batters to go on the offensive at the latter stage of the innings.

Interestingly, several of Royals’ better fielders made some mistakes. While Dhruv Jurel and Riyan Parag misfielded balls at the boundary, Trent Boult put down a sitter. However, the dropped catch didn’t prove too costly as du Plessis fell off the next ball, hitting flat to Jos Buttler at long on, despite it being a more than 70-meter shot. They even missed a few run out chances.

However, following the dismissal of du Plessis after scoring a 33-ball 44, Royals were quick to pounce on that opening, and ensured that the new batters didn’t have it any easier. After serving a couple of slower balls to Glenn Maxwell, Burger cleaned him up with a faster one. Saurav Chauhan’s debut wasn’t too noteworthy either as he was dismissed for a six-ball nine, offering a catch to Yashasvi Jaiswal at mid wicket, where he took it off a second attempt. Cameron Green’s attempt to muscle some big shots didn’t yield the desired result, as he could add only five runs in six deliveries.

Could RCB put up a fight with the ball?

Early on, there were signs that they could trouble RR on a pitch that Kohli had claimed wasn’t as flat as it looked. Reece Topley had Yashasvi Jaiswal top-edging a pull to mid off off the second delivery of the chase. Soon, Buttler could’ve been caught and then run out. But RCB let both chances slip away. The Royals opener, who had been enduring a bit of a patchy form lately was looking scratchy early on in the chase. In the first four overs RR managed to score only 25 runs.

What happened thereafter?

Buttler and Samson dictated the run chase.

The signs of a counterattack had started in the fifth over, but it was in the last over of the powerplay that they truly went into overdrive, with Buttler smoking Mayank Dagar for three boundaries and a six. The slip-ups from the RCB fielders were plenty. To add to it, even Kohli put down an opportunity to dismiss Samson on 28 when he dived forward but couldn’t hold on to a catch.

Samson, who was also slow to start off, went to the fifth gear in Dagar’s second over when he smashed the left-arm spinner for a six and two boundaries, and brought up his half-century in the process.

As the partnership flourished, RCB kept running out of ideas. While the two batters were quick to use deft touches to their advantage, they largely targetted the straight boundaries. In 86 balls, they put on a 148-run stand which almost sealed the fate of the contest. Samson fell in the 15th over pulling Siraj to the fine leg fielder, who took the catch barely a few inches from the boundary.

Was there any late twist?

Needing 32 runs off the last five overs, the hosts didn’t need to sweat too much. Parag was dismissed chipping to the short mid wicket fielder and Jurel edged a delivery down the legside to the ‘keeper, but RCB were left with too much to threaten the contest. Nonetheless, they managed to take it to the last over, which seemed highly unlikely at the end of the 14th over, where they were left defending only 38 runs with nine wickets in hand.

With one run needed off the last over, Buttler smoked Green for a six over the deep mid wicket boundary to bring up his sixth IPL century and help RR over the line.

Brief Scores:

Royal Challengers Bengaluru 183/3 in 20 overs (Virat Kohli 119*, Faf du Plessis 44; Yuzvendra Chahal 2-32, Nandre Burger 1-33) lost to Rajasthan Royals 189/6 in 19.1 overs (Jos Buttler 100*, Sanju Samson 69; Reece Topley 2-27, Mohammed Siraj 1-35) by 6 wickets

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