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April 18, 2008
The opening ceremony was a spectacular affair, but what followed was even more breathtaking, as Brendon McCullum destroyed the home team in the inaugural match of the IPL. In what was a brutal one-man assault on the Bangalore Royal Challengers, McCullum blasted an unbeaten 158 from a mere 73 deliveries, the highest score in a Twenty20 match, to propel Kolkata Knight Riders to an imposing 222 for 3. The punch-drunk Bangalore team was in no condition to fight back after that battering, and collapsed limply to 82 to lose by an embarrassing margin of 140 runs, the fourth-largest defeat in this sort of match.
Chris Gayle was expected to be the aggressive opener for Kolkata, but McCullum's stunning knock ensured Gayle's absence wasn't felt at all. In an innings which was reminiscent of Gayle's blistering knock in the World Twenty20 opener - he had scored 117 from 57 - McCullum gave the Bangalore bowlers no chance. Pace and spin were both treated with equal contempt, and the crowd was treated to an innings of rare explosiveness.
The start, though, was deceptive. Six balls into his innings, McCullum didn't have a single run as Praveen Kumar bowled an excellent first over. Four deliveries later, McCullum had blazed to 18, flicking and pulling Zaheer Khan for four, and then miscuing a flick which, quite incredibly, soared over third man for the first six.
Zaheer was quickly pulled out of the attack, but his replacement, Ashley Noffke, fared even worse. His first ball was so wayward that neither McCullum nor Mark Boucher, the wicketkeeper, had a chance of getting to it. When the ball landed within McCullum's reach, the result was even more devastating: a pulled six over square leg and another over extra cover. Twenty-three in the over, and Noffke out of the attack as well.
McCullum allowed himself a breather after that, going 17 deliveries without a boundary, before the floodgates opened again. Sunil Joshi was slog-swept twice - with the bottom hand coming off the bat once - for sixes, before he turned his attention to Cameron White and Jacques Kallis. Line, length, and pace mattered not a jot, as balls disappeared over the ground with ridiculous frequency. When Zaheer returned for another spell, McCullum manufactured the stroke of the evening, going down on one knee and scooping the ball over fine leg for six.
Praveen, who bowled superbly in his first three overs, had escaped the McCullum onslaught for most of the evening, but he too suffered in the last over of the innings, as the first two balls vanished over midwicket, before McCullum put the final seal on his innings, depositing the last ball of the innings over long-on. That brought his sixes' tally to 13, the most in a Twenty20 innings.
Shahrukh Khan, the owner of the franchise, had danced through the McCullum innings, and he had even more reason to celebrate as his bowlers then got into the act with equal gusto. Rahul Dravid, under immense pressure facing an asking-rate of more than 11, lasted three balls, losing his middle stump while attempting a heave. The loss of the captain started the slide, and it went downhill quickly thereafter.
Kallis mounted the briefest of challenges, lofting Ajit Agarkar over extra cover for a huge six, but fell next ball, pulling tamely to mid-on. The pitch offered some pace and bounce, and Ishant Sharma, especially, exploited it, getting the ball to zip at a fair pace. Agarkar also prised out White, who had held the record for the highest Twenty20 score till a few minutes before. Bangalore's only chance was if he produced a similar stunner, but by the time he nicked one off Agarkar the contest was already over. The end came soon after, when Joshi fell to a miscued pull with 29 deliveries still left in the innings.
The match may have been over long before the last ball was bowled, but McCullum's stunner has given the IPL, and Kolkata, a dream start. With Ganguly's team playing their next match at the Eden Gardens, this result should ensure that Sunday's clash against the Deccan Chargers draws a full house, and more. The IPL extravaganza has well and truly begun.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?