Royal Challengers Bangalore have finally found ways to win despite having one recurring issue while batting first: when a wicket falls in the middle overs, another follows soon after.
Twice against Kolkata Knight Riders, and once each against Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers have lost two wickets off consecutive balls. On each of those occasions, one of the batsmen to fall was well-set; in their first game against Knight Riders, both batsmen to be dismissed were well-set - AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli.
This trend can prove costly and often has. Typically, the overs following these mini-collapses are used by new batsmen to get their eyes in, which leads to that old captain's lament at the end of the game: that the team fell 15-20 runs short.
For a team that has conceded runs at a rate well above anyone else in the death overs - 12.01 overall; 12.37 when defending totals - and can't seem to regularly find control apart from their two main bowlers, that's a lot of runs.
Against Super Kings in Bengaluru, in the only other match they scored 200-plus, Royal Challengers lost half-centurions Quinton de Kock and de Villiers in the span of 11 balls. In the middle of this, Corey Anderson made 2 off eight balls, before falling one ball after de Villiers was dismissed. In that two-over period, the 14th and 15th overs, Royal Challengers made four runs and lost three wickets. A wicket maiden - the second of the innings - was squeezed in too. They were 138 for 1 in 13 overs before that, and ended up making 205. In the last seven overs, with nine wickets in hand, they struck at a rate lower than they did in the first 13.
That, of course, was the match that really brought Royal Challengers' bowling weaknesses to the forefront, with Super Kings chasing down 80 off the last six overs. MS Dhoni's winning six in that final over as Anderson finished with figures of 3.4-0-58-0 was the definitive sign that Royal Challengers needed serious favours apart from when they were batting.
Their fielders have done that for the most part. From data updated until May 13, Royal Challengers' fielders had saved a net total of 36 runs, which was more than any other team. But on Thursday, they conceded at least three boundaries through misfields, among several other fumbles, as Sunrisers Hyderabad established a base and reduced the equation to 89 off six overs. Not too different from the Super Kings game.
The bowling analyses looked similar too. Umesh Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were the best bowlers again, going for a combined 59 off their eight overs, a shade more than the 49 they conceded against Super Kings. The remaining 12 overs, however, cost nearly 145 runs.
The difference in the end proved to be a slight switch in batting strategy. De Villiers holed out in the 15th over, which was Rashid Khan's last. Moeen Ali, who had partnered him in a 107-run stand, drilled the next ball over Rashid's head, but was caught behind one ball after that, attempting a reverse-sweep. In the next over, new batsman Colin de Grandhomme found a thick outside edge that gave him a boundary off his second ball. A few overs later, de Grandhomme hit the first ball after Mandeep Singh's dismissal for six, and Sarfaraz Khan picked up a boundary against Siddarth Kaul as soon as he came in.
It was clear - Royal Challengers were not going to be slowed down by wickets. Unlike against Super Kings, where two of their last five overs went for nine runs or less, the lower-middle order ensured RCB collected 10 or more in each over during that phase. De Grandhomme and Sarfaraz's adventurous, if not risky, stays rewarded RCB with 70 runs off the last five overs.
According to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, de Grandhomme's innings was the most valuable in the match: he marginally tipped Kane Williamson (11.17) with a smart contribution of 11.35 runs, which meant his 17-ball 40 was worth 51 runs. That's a Smart Strike Rate of 302. At the other end, Sarfaraz's 22 off eight was worth 30, for an SSR of 380.41.
It was the perfect finish to a T20 innings: there were enough wickets in hand to take the number of risks they did, all the hitters came in at the right time, and their contributions provided the perfect boost to an innings that had gone at nearly 10 an over till the end of the middle overs.
And based on the smart contributions, Kohli's team did not fall 15-20 runs short this time.