Mandhana serves up a blockbuster for Bengaluru in farewell game

Takeaways: Mandhana makes merry in final game of Bengaluru leg (2:29)

Valkerie Baynes with the takeaways from RCB's win against UPW (2:29)

It was the perfect end to the first leg of WPL 2024. A hugely partisan crowd in Bengaluru gave Royal Challengers Bangalore the perfect send-off after their third win in five matches.

The official attendance was 26,483 but the endless noise and the cheer made it sound like 40,000 had crammed into the stadium on a Monday, vociferously rooting for a team whose chants of 'RCB-RCB' have become quite synonymous at venues across the country, even when the team isn't playing.

As if to match up this energy, RCB played the perfect high-intensity game. Along the way, they made a few tactical changes that went a long way in putting on a batting performance that demoralized the UP Warriorz.

After scores of 1, 6, 23 and 9, RCB decided to drop Sophie Devine down the order. S Meghana was promoted to open with Smriti Mandhana with a simple message of maximising the powerplay without worrying about preserving her wicket.

Right On cue, Meghana delivered a pulsating start, her agricultural heaves and bottom-handed power with the field in threw down an early gauntlet. It came with the knowledge that they bat deep.

Mandhana took over from where Meghana left off, batting with the freedom she has seldom shown at RCB. All through WPL 2023, she went through a wretched run, where she was particularly vulnerable to spin, especially of the left-arm variety, to the point that teams brought one on as early as they possibly could.

Alyssa Healy knew the crowd was against her. They were so loud that she didn't even bother to chirp at Mandhana. It would only be drowned out. But she could do the next best thing. Bring on a spinner to play on Mandhana's mind and she had a plethora to choose from: Deepti Sharma, Sophie Ecclestone, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Chamari Athapaththu and Grace Harris. Healy picked the left-armer Gayakwad and Mandhana greeted her with a glorious inside-out six over wide long-off.

The footwork coming down the track, the precision of her movements, the backlift and the follow-through after hitting the ball - all poetry in motion. Then came Athapaththu, a part-timer with a penchant for breakthroughs with her offspin. Mandhana carted her across the line over long-on. She'd raced to 21 off 12.

Luck was on Mandhana's side by now. On 28, she skewed Ecclestone to long-off and Athapaththu made a mess of a straightforward chance. Ecclestone couldn't bear looking on. Two balls after the reprieve, Athapaththu was the aggrieved one, as Healy missed a stumping chance off her bowling. You felt this was a moment that would fire Mandhana into orbit. She lap swept the next ball for four to get going again.

The Warriorz knew it was time to play some more mind games, but Mandhana seemed to welcome it. Deepti bailed out at release point, trying to take the premeditation away. Mandhana bailed out of her stance as Deepti attempted to re-bowl. The crowd went hysterical. Mandhana smiled, Healy, an excellent tactician herself, had a little chuckle.

As the intensity kept you hooked on the pitch, away from it, the crowd was having a ball, like they usually do. Devine and Richa Ghosh decided to entertain them with a 50-metre dash from the pitch to the dugout. It was a photo finish and by far the most entertaining strategic time out ever.

Mandhana had the perfect ally in Ellyse Perry, who walked in at No. 3, unlike earlier where she batted at four. And she quickly got into her groove to play support, only occasionally hitting the ball in the air, but effortlessly finding gaps to keep the scoreboard ticking.

The gears truly changed in the 15th over when Athapaththu was taken for three fours by Mandhana. Anjali Sarvani came under attack too, taken for three more fours. Mandhana paddled her first up, tonked a slot-ball to long-off and then played a ferocious cut behind point. She had answers to everything thrown at her.

The shot of the evening, though, was reserved for Gayakwad when she moved leg side of the ball in stepping out and then launched it inside-out, against the turn, over extra cover. It was special because the field was set for the slog across the line with three fielders patrolling the deep; Mandhana had not just superbly opened up the off side but also picked her spot with precision.

A century loomed, the first in the WPL, but Mandhana fell looking to take the field on, caught at deep midwicket off Deepti's bowling. The Chinnaswamy rose, the applause resonated around the ground. With Mandhana gone, Perry had the license to go full throttle, and she did, hitting a six that shattered the glass window of a sponsor car.

When the innings ended, it felt like the crowd had lost their voice after all the hooting. Inside the insulated, air-conditioned hospitality box, phones buzzed with warnings about the decibel levels.

This refreshing batting approach that nearly saw RCB ransack 200 was more in line with what the management expected from them. They aren't a team that should be huffing and puffing to 131.

The change in tactics was as much an exercise in understanding how much depth they have, but also unlocking their own potential. Ghosh being promoted ahead of Devine to power-hit was sign that things are moving in the right direction. It also told you how much Ghosh has come along in the past year. From being dropped for being "unfit" after last year's WPL, her work on the sidelines is beginning to bear fruit. Along with her batting, Ghosh's glove work has gone up a few notches. Her dismissal of Harris was ample proof of the anticipation and the athleticism she now has.

You wondered if Bengaluru could match Mumbai's intensity in terms of crowd support. By the end of the first leg, you could say without doubt they'd owned the stage. Mandhana and her team gave the crowd a lap of honour and the WPL's experiment of the caravan model had passed the test in style. Over to you, Delhi.