The Royal Challengers Bangalore go into Qualifier 1 of the IPL 2016 playoffs as the clear favourites, even if they are facing the only team that finished above them and the side that topped the points table -- Gujarat Lions. GL suffered the biggest defeat, in terms of runs, in IPL history the last time the two teams met, so you can forgive Suresh Raina's side if they are wary of facing RCB in this not-quite-a-do-or-die encounter on Tuesday in Bengaluru.
Whenever a match is played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, one thing that can be guaranteed is runs, so expect a high-scoring contest when two teams filled with made-for-T20 batsmen clash.
Here is a prediction of how RCB vs GL might transpire.
If RCB bat first: The last time Virat Kohli and co. were asked to bat first by the Gujarat Lions, the home team went on to score 248 in the first innings. Looking for a similar score – maybe not quite that crazy, but big nonetheless – Kohli and Gayle start strong, with the latter taking the attack to the bowlers. Kohli takes his time in the first 10-13 balls, and by the time he has played those, Gayle is already on 34, which is when the left-hander gets out to fellow West Indian Dwayne Smith. However, Kohli, who has been by far the best player in IPL 2016, cannot be stopped and with AB De Villiers crunching a four through the offside off his first delivery, the signs are ominous, as far as GL are concerned. The two right-handers put on 79 runs together, before Kohli falls to his India teammate Ravindra Jadeja. De Villiers, though, continues to attack, and with Shane Watson finally finding his range with the bat, and KL Rahul and Sachin Baby chipping in at the end as well, RCB manage to post 207.
With another 200+ total to chase, Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith are under pressure to go six-crazy, but the pressure of the chase tells and Smith falls to Sreenath Aravind. McCullum, however, is determined to make a game of it, with Suresh Raina also coming in and throwing down the gauntlet to the RCB bowlers. When they have been put under pressure in the past, the RCB bowlers have struggled, and that proves to be the case again, as McCullum and Raina forge a 125-run partnership. Needing a further 68 runs for victory in six overs, it looks like GL have the match in their grasp, but Chris Jordan and Shane Watson come to the fore in style for RCB. The two bowlers show their death over skills by breaking the partnership, before picking up wickets regularly to end all hopes of a GL win.
If Gujarat Lions bat first: McCullum and Finch open the innings, and the NZ-Aus duo are in the mood from the off, finding the boundaries at will, with McCullum particularly severe on Stuart Binny, who had opened the bowling in the hope of picking up an early wicket. The opening partnership is worth 94 runs, before Yuzvendra Chahal dismisses McCullum for a well-made 57. Raina comes in and scores a quickfire 34, while Karthik falls for 12, leaving Finch to see the innings off in the company of Smith. The two do that pretty well, scoring 74 runs in the final six overs to lift the Gujarat Lions to 197.
Gayle and Kohli are a tad circumspect to begin with, knowing the importance of not losing too many early wickets. But, just when Dhawal Kulkarni thinks he has his bowling under control, Gayle launches an extraordinary attack, with that over taken for 23 runs. That gives RCB the momentum they need, as Kohli also gets in on the act, scorching boundary after boundary and delectable straight six after delectable straight six. When Gayle goes for 63, the game is setup perfectly for De Villiers to take RCB home in the company of Kohli, and that is precisely what they do, barely putting a foot wrong – even Dwayne Bravo can do little -- to finish the match off in the penultimate over, and with it seal a place in the IPL 2016 final.