Almost imperceptibly, AB de Villiers has replaced Chris Gayle as Bangalore's favourite adopted son. Watching him bat at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on a dramatic Sunday night, it wasn't difficult to figure out why.
Desperately needing a victory to keep their hopes of making the knockout stages of IPL V alive, Royal Challengers Bangalore appeared out for the count against a resurgent Deccan Chargers when, without warning, de Villiers exploded in sensational fashion. His decisive assault on South African team-mate Dale Steyn in the 18th over of a difficult run-chase fashioned the Challengers' five-wicket victory with seven deliveries to spare.
Put in by stand-in captain Virat Kohli after Daniel Vettori dropped himself, a totally revamped Challengers outfit paid the price for inexperience in the bowling ranks as they allowed the Chargers to race away in the last third of their innings. With Shikhar Dhawan and Daniel Harris having laid the foundation with an 86-run opening-wicket salvo, Cameron White feasted on the freebies offered by the Challengers towards the closing stages as the Chargers posted an intimidating 181 for two on an excellent batting deck.
Dhawan carried his bat during his 52-ball 73 and Harris alternated between the sublime against the rest and the ordinary against Muttiah Muralitharan, but it was White who caught the eye with his crisp, clean ball-striking. Abhimanyu Mithun and Prasanth Parameswaran, both playing their first games of the season, were at the receiving end of his blitzkrieg as the last seven overs yielded 88 runs.
Tillakaratne Dilshan fuelled the chase with typical cheekiness but Chris Gayle was remarkably subdued, making just 26 at slightly better than a run a ball during an opening stand of 91 (64b). Kohli's poor run continued and when Dilshan was cleaned up by Veer Pratap Singh, the Challengers were up against it, needing 65 off 28 deliveries. 12 of them were to be bowled by Steyn, who had already sent down a maiden to Gayle. The signs were ominous.
Mayank Agarwal injected hope into a packed house with two sixes during a 6-ball 18. It was upon his dismissal that de Villiers sprang to life. 39 were needed off the last three overs. By the time Steyn was done with the 18th over, the equation had come down to 16 off two as de Villiers lay into his Protean mate with scarcely concealed glee.
The first delivery was pulled over mid-wicket for six, the third clattered through mid-wicket for four, the fourth extraordinarily driven over cover for six, the fifth scooped over short-fine for four. Exhilarating, destructive, decisive.