Bangalore: Arun Karthik produced the six most important runs of his 14-match Twenty20 career off the last ball of the CLT20 league phase to propel Royal Challengers Bangalore past South Australia Redbacks in a game that had everything except for a Super Over finish. It had the most astonishing century, from Daniel Harris. It had a five-for from Shaun Tait, in a game where 419 runs came off 40 overs. It also featured sublime strokeplay from Virat Kohli, who played the best innings of his Twenty20 career. It had strong support hands from Callum Ferguson and Tillakaratne Dilshan. But it all boiled down to the last ball, off which six were needed, and Karthik stepped up to smash Daniel Christain into the stands beyond midwicket. The crowd went up as one, the RCB dug-out exploded in joy, and even the usually laidback Gayle walked out shirtless with a broad smile.
In a game that unfolded like a Hitchcockian whodunit, it was fitting that the winning blow came off the bat of someone who was playing only because of AB de Villiers' injury. At the other end was S Aravind, by some distance the worst bowler of the day, who got close to redemption with a boundary off the third ball of that electric final over. Christian produced a slower ball off the fourth, which Aravind slogged for two, making it seven needed off the last two balls. He couldn't connect off the next, but the batsmen scrambled through for a bye. Six needed off one, and Christian delivered a slower ball as eminently hittable as Chetan Sharma's infamous fulltoss in Sharjah, 1985. Arun Karthik stayed deep in his crease and heaved with all his might over midwicket to become a hero.
It was heartbreak for the Redbacks, who somehow regrouped after a virtually unstoppable 100-run stand between Kohli and Tillakaratne Dilshan off 8.5 overs. By the time Kohli fell, he had reduced the equation to a gettable 50 off the last five overs, but RCB's under-weight middle order gave the Redbacks a chance. Nathan Lyon piled on the pressure with a four-run 16th over, but Tait ceded the advantage with two sixes in the 17th, though he managed to dismiss Saurabh Tiwary. The next over from Alex O'Brien also produced two sixes and wicket, making it 18 required off the last 12 balls. Tait then lasered Dilshan's stumps with a stunning yorker, and got Vettori to miscue before completing his five-for with Raju Bhatkal's wicket. That set up the last-over climax, Christian blinked after five balls, and Arun Karthik held his nerve to set up an IPL side's first win against an Australian team.
The cameos from Tait and Arun Karthik dominated the ending, but the real heroes of the game were Harris and Kohli. Both produced innings that had no business featuring in an unabashed exhibition for Twenty20 batting. Harris' effort stood out for the shots he didn't play - he went 18 overs without trying to hit a six, and yet coasted to a century with time to spare. Kohli's was elevated by the shots he chose to play - faced with an asking-rate nearly 11, and with Chris Gayle back in the hut, he unfurled a series of astonishingly correct strokes. If Harris showed that T20 batting is not about six-hitting, Kohli proved that it is not about mindless slogging.
Equally telling were the chalk-and-cheese support acts from Ferguson and Dilshan. With the spinners pulling things back after Harris' Powerplay boundary blitz, Ferguson took his time settling in before opening up in style. Dilshan, on the other hand, ignited RCB's chase with a series of outrageous strokes, including a couple of trademark scoops. Gayle was more subdued at the start, but he gradually found his range to muscle three sixes, before Michael Klinger caught him in the deep even as he collided grievously with Tom Cooper.
Kohli opened his account with a pulled six through wide long-on when Christian dropped short. The slowness of the pitch and the variations of the Redbacks attack could not stop him from driving through the line, repeatedly in front of the wicket. He charged out to O'Brien and launched him with the turn over long-off, before carving Richardson for the shot of the day - an inside-out six into the stands behind extra-cover. He then gave Harris a taste of his own medicine, taking him for two sixes and three fours in the 13 over to put RCB on course for a heist. Someone forgot to inform Tait, but that did not matter since Arun Karthik had designs of his own. The script was completely different in the first half of the match, as for the second night on the trot, an IPL side took a hiding from an Australian batsman. Aravind's pathetic lengths made this considerably easy - he finished with figures of 4-0-69-0, the second worst in T20 history - but that could not take any credit away from Harris.
The floodgates opened in the second over of the match, when Aravind sent down a series of slow freebies angled into the hitting zone. Harris gratefully opened up his stance and carved boundaries straight, square and fine through the off side to set the Redbacks on their way. Kohli missed a run-out in the next over, and Harris celebrated by smashing seven of his next eight balls for fours. Vettori daringly persisted with Aravind for the fourth over, only to see him repeat his mind-numbingly predictable lengths from either side of the stumps. Harris indulged himself to move to 43 off 19 balls by the fourth over, and Vettori was left playing catch-up for the remaining 16.
With the spinners coming on, Harris settled into cruise-mode, while Ferguson took his time getting in. Just when the momentum seemed to be flagging a touch, Aravind returned into the attack, and the Redbacks resumed their attacking ways. Having taken two fours and six off Aravind's 16th over, Ferguson thumped Nannes emphatically for a six off the first ball off the 17th. Ferguson holed out in the 18th over, and that prompted Harris to finally chance a big hit. He pounded Raju Bhatkal over midwicket for his first six, before dumping Nannes behind square-leg to bring up the century. Incredibly, Aravind got the 20th over, and Christian duly bludgeoned five more fours.