Royal Challengers Bangalore 179 for 3 (de Villiers 55*, Kohli 43, Padikkal 35) beat Rajasthan Royals 177 for 6 (Smith 57, Uthappa 41, Morris 4-26, Chahal 2-34) by seven wickets
Having AB de Villiers in your line-up is like having a cheat code in a videogame. Take him away, and the Royal Challengers Bangalore were very much second best to the Rajasthan Royals on Saturday, with all their other batsmen struggling to find the boundary on a slow pitch, in a chase of 178. Take him away, however, is exactly what the Royals couldn't do.
De Villiers arrived with the Royal Challengers needing 76 from 42, which became 76 from 41 when Virat Kohli departed. Gurkeerat Singh would be on strike for 17 of those 41 balls, and score just 19 off them.
But even with all these layers of difficulty added to his task, de Villiers pulled it off, and made it look easy, with just a bit of help from the Royals' tactics. With the equation coming down to 35 off 12, they left their best bowler, Jofra Archer, for the 20th over rather than use him in the 19th as most teams would have.
De Villiers hit Jaydev Unadkat for 6, 6, 6 off the first three balls of that 19th over, and the game was pretty much in the bag. He finished unbeaten on 55 off 22, having hit six sixes - one more than the Royals managed in their entire innings - and the Royal Challengers won with two balls to spare.
Uthappa turns back the clock
Robin Uthappa has always been at his best as a top-order batsman. Before today, he had an average of 29.81 and a strike rate of 133.47 from 121 IPL innings in the top three, as against 24.45 and 119.68 in 55 innings lower down. And yet, he'd batted down the order in all of his matches this season, until today, when the Royals shuffled their line-up once again. Having tried four opening combinations already this season, they now went to Uthappa, in his preferred position, alongside Ben Stokes.
Having struggled for fluency all season, Uthappa found it, making full use of the powerplay field restrictions. He used the crease excellently to pick up four fours in the third over of the match - a drive past mid-off and three sweeps or swipes over backward square leg - when Washington Sundar bowled with long-on and deep midwicket as his two boundary fielders. In the next over, he hit the medium-fast Isuru Udana for a four and a six over mid-on - another favourite zone - and the Royals were up and running.
Stokes wasn't quite as fluent, and he fell in the last over of the powerplay, off a slower bouncer from Chris Morris. Uthappa was still going strong, though, hitting Navdeep Saini for a pair of fours in the seventh over, and when Sanju Samson greeted Yuzvendra Chahal's introduction with a massive six over midwicket - which took the score to 68 for 1 in 8.1 overs - the Royal Challengers may have wondered how they were going to stem the scoring rate.
The answer was right in front of them. Since the start of the 2018 season, there had been 12 occasions before today in which Chahal had taken a wicket in an over where he'd also been hit for at least one six. No other spinner had come close - Sunil Narine and Shreyas Gopal were a distant joint second, having done so six times each.
Chahal usually achieves this by continuing to challenge batsmen to hit him for six, and he did so again today, taking out both Uthappa and Samson in that same over, trusting in his flight, a wider line, and the long boundaries in Dubai. Samson's wicket may have seemed like a poor choice of shot, but there was a bit of deception involved too, with the dip and the slowness of the delivery causing him to drag the ball straighter than intended, and hit the ball to long-off rather than over extra-cover.
Smith, Tewatia help set challenging target
Jos Buttler found the boundary twice in the next three overs, but Chahal, Sundar and Saini combined to give away just 17 runs from overs 12 to 14. The Royals needed someone to restore their ebbing momentum, and Steven Smith provided the boost they needed, using his movement around the crease and the deftest of hands to pick up a pair of fours off Udana and a six and another four - either side of Buttler's dismissal - off Morris. He picked up three more fours in the 18th over, off Chahal, two via the reverse-sweep.
With Udana bowling an expensive 19th - Rahut Tewatia, who seems to enjoy batting against left-arm seam, got stuck into him - and Morris a tight 20th, the Royals posted 177 for 6.
The boundaries dry up
Through most of their chase, the Royal Challengers simply got stuck. A feature of their innings was an inability to hit fours - they only hit five in all, compared to the Royals' 17 - and part of the reason for this was the unwillingness or inability of their top order to play the sweep, which is such a key weapon on slow pitches. Where the Royals - for whom Uthappa and Smith played the shot particularly well - picked up 25 runs off 11 balls with conventional, reverse, paddle and slog-sweeps against the spinners, the Royal Challengers only picked up three runs, off two balls.
Devdutt Padikkal struggled to 35 off 37 balls, with only two boundaries, while Kohli struggled for fluency but muscled a pair of sixes in scoring 43 off 32. By the time de Villiers came to the crease, the Royal Challengers' required rate had climbed from 8.9 at the start of their chase to 10.9 at the 13-over mark.
De Villiers takes over
De Villiers' arrival didn't change the game immediately. The Royal Challengers didn't hit a boundary in his first 15 balls at the crease, partly because Gurkeerat was on strike for six of them, and partly because Kartik Tyagi, Shreyas Gopal - who had dismissed de Villiers four times in five meetings before today - and Archer weren't that easy to get away.
Then Archer bowled a rare short ball that didn't get up to an uncomfortable height, and de Villiers was away with a six swatted over the square leg boundary. Even that didn't fully open the floodgates, with Unadkat and Tyagi managing to keep Gurkeerat on strike for seven balls in the 17th and 18th overs.
This left the Royal Challengers needing 35 off 12. Teams now overwhelmingly use their best death bowler in the 19th over while defending totals, with the idea that they'll make the equation even harder for the chasing team by the time the final over begins. By that logic, Archer should have bowled, but Smith, the Royals captain, went with Unadkat, reckoning that his slower balls would be harder to muscle over the leg side with the longer boundary in that direction.
It might have worked on another day, and against another batsman, but de Villiers, who sets up better at the crease against the slower ball than anyone else on the planet, went 6, 6, 6 - over the longer boundary each time - off the first three balls of Unadkat's over. Another six over midwicket, off Archer in the final over, completed the job and moved de Villiers past 50 for the fourth time in the season.