The Royal Challengers Bangalore batted Glenn Maxwell at No. 4 in their chase against the Mumbai Indians specifically to give him a chance to settle in before going for his shots. Captain Virat Kohli said as much after his side chased down 160 to register victory in the IPL 2021 opening game. While things got closer than the Royal Challengers would have bargained for, and it came down to a classic AB de Villiers knock in the end, Kohli said the signs were very much there that giving Maxwell more time would be beneficial to the side.
"We wanted Maxi to bat at four," Kohli said at the post-match presentation. "The set-up was such that if we get a partnership [at the top], then Maxi comes into the game and he can do what he does [at the death]. But if we lose early wickets as well, it allows him to get into the innings and not start slogging from ball one. As a batsman, if that [hitting from ball one] doesn't come off, it can start playing on your mind.
"Today you saw the result of him playing 10-15 balls, he's a different player then. He just took the game away from the opposition in those middle overs to be honest. His innings, I felt, in our partnership was that momentum changer and that made the job easier in the end. If he had stayed in, we probably would have finished a couple of overs earlier."
Maxwell made 39 off 28, with three fours and two sixes, and was involved in a stand of 52 with Kohli to set up the chase. This was his first game for the Royal Challengers, following a dreadful IPL for Kings XI Punjab in 2020, when he made 108 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 101.88, with not a single six to his name.
When Maxwell fell, undone by a slower, short one from Marco Jansen, the Royal Challengers needed 57 off 35, and that became 54 off 30 before de Villiers went after Rahul Chahar, taking 14 off five balls against him to relieve the pressure. The Royal Challengers continued to fumble at the other end though, and another quiet over followed, leaving them needing 34 from 18 before de Villiers delivered again, this time against Trent Boult (14 more runs off five balls he faced in the over). There was still the matter of a Jasprit Bumrah over to negotiate, and de Villiers duly took two fours off it, before being run out in the final over and it all going down to the last ball for the Royal Challengers. To some, that might have been a familiar sight - de Villiers carrying the Royal Challengers in the end overs with not much support.
Given how central he repeatedly is to their fortunes, did they err in shifting him down to No. 5 and not letting him bat for longer? "It's a difficult one," Kohli said. "AB is probably the only player in our team who is so versatile, and he can do what he did on slow pitches, today. A lot of other people will find it difficult to execute.
"If there's a partnership [at the top], you might see a totally different batting order. But in a tricky chase, you know you need experience in the back also. And a player that the opposition knows, 'if he doesn't get out, anything can be chased down'... Then the bowler gets into a different kind of headspace. So that's something we want to bank on. But if Dev [Devdutt Padikkal, the Royal Challengers' first-choice opener who missed out on Friday having just recovered from Covid-19] and me get off to a start and we bat through till nine-ten overs, we could see a totally different approach straightaway from ball one."
Kohli also expressed confidence in debutant Rajat Patidar, who batted at No. 3, making a run-a-ball 8. "Rajat is a very solid player, probably didn't see enough of him in this game but he's a really exciting prospect for us. He plays spin really well, good against fast bowling too. He's going to be one to watch out for."