The perfect advertisement for the IPL
Less than three weeks ago, 19-year-old Gujarat medium-pacer Jasprit Bumrah hadn't played a single game at the senior level. Yet there he was on Thursday night, ball in hand for Mumbai Indians at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, with more than 35,000 raucous fans screaming for him to be clobbered around the park. If the largest crowd he had ever faced wasn't enough to faze him, he was up against the anointed prince of Indian cricket, Virat Kohli, and the format's most destructive batsman, Chris Gayle.
His first ball was short and wide, and Kohli pounded it over point for four. If the nervy youngster needed some reassurance, he got it from one of the most successful players around, and one who knows all about hostile crowds as his captain Ricky Ponting ran up from midwicket to give him a pat of encouragement. Bumrah's next ball too was wide, and Kohli stabbed that through the off side for four more. This time there was a quiet word of advice for Bumrah from the biggest drawcard in the game, Sachin Tendulkar.
Things quickly got better for Bumrah, whose awkward action as he delivers from wide of the crease can disconcert batsmen, as he had Kohli lbw, and added two more victims to finish with 3 for 32. Bumrah was living the dream of a young cricketer, playing with and against cricketing royalty, his every move tracked by a boisterous full house and watched by millions on television. For a tournament whose trophy has 'where talent meets opportunity' etched on it, there couldn't have been a better demonstration of that motto.
There were plenty more reasons why the game between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians was the perfect advertisement for the IPL. The league may like to project itself sometimes as an avenue for India's journeymen cricketers, but it is always been far more enamoured with the superstars of the game. Even without the most lethal bowler in Twenty20s, Lasith Malinga, and the best all-format batsman in the world, AB de Villiers, Thursday's encounter served up an unmatched star cast.
Topping that list were the ageing all-time greats, Ponting and Tendulkar, for years rivals for the tag of the world's leading batsman, the most prolific scorers in the history of both Tests and ODIs. When Ponting had his golden run in the mid-2000s, some Tendulkar fans yearned for the Australian's failure as he closed in on some of the towering records of their idol. Yet here the pair was, knocking gloves and discussing the field as they went out to bat, hoping to solve Mumbai Indians' long-standing opening problem. As a placard said, "Tendulkar and Ponting batting together for the first time, I was there."
If watching those two legends batting together was a touch surreal, there was an added wow-factor when the greatest wicket-taker the game has known, Muttiah Muralitharan, came on to bowl to them. Murali's first over had you reliving past battles in your mind - his first ball went straighter than Ponting expected and nearly dismissed him, two balls later Ponting survived an lbw appeal, before Tendulkar manufactured two lofted boundaries to end the over. The placard had changed to, "Tendulkar and Ponting batting together, Murali bowling, now I've seen everything."
The game, though, wasn't just a nostalgia-fest. Gayle is currently the world's most sought-after Twenty20 batsman, and the sight of him smiting sixes out of the Chinnaswamy is as sure a sign that summer has arrived in Bangalore as the rising temperatures. Over the past couple of years, his fanbase has expanded as quickly as his wallet, and he duly delivered what the expectant faithful turned up for. Even though he was hobbling on one leg for much of his innings, he produced another hour-and-a-half of casual destruction, including an incredible six off Munaf Patel, when he shifted his weight onto the back foot but still managed to power the ball over long-on.
Then there was the most prized facet of a Twenty20 - the tight finish. With four overs to go, Royal Challengers seemed to have the match locked up, with Mumbai Indians needing 51 off 24. Dinesh Karthik brushed aside that notion with three successive sixes off Dan Christian - the Australian is certain to have nightmares about bowling to a Karthik in Bangalore, having conceded a game-losing final-ball six to Arun Karthik the last time he played in the city.
Despite Dinesh Karthik's best efforts it came down to the final over, and the final ball. For all the international stars around, the responsibility of closing out the match for Royal Challengers fell on Vinay Kumar, captain of the local Ranji side. Vinay struck off successive deliveries to swing the game again, and Kieron Pollard couldn't slam the final ball of the game for a boundary, giving the home side victory.
There will be carping over Pollard's position in the batting order, and whether Tendulkar and Ponting can form a fruitful Twenty20 opening partnership, but after the tepid opening game in Kolkata, this was the just the sort of match the IPL's marketing machine would have prayed for to jumpstart the season.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo