Calm Tendulkar sets tone for IPL 2
For gnarled, one-year veterans of the Indian Premier League there will be always be Brendon and Bangalore. The bar was set so high by last year's curtain-raiser, when Brendon McCullum lit up the night sky with a pulsating 158 not out, that whatever happened today was destined to feel like an anti-climax. Sure enough, Sachin Tendulkar's unbeaten 59 from 49 balls was a model of good sense. Despite the impression given by some of its officials, the IPL can't have everything.
Tendulkar, though, knew what he was doing. MS Dhoni had asked the Mumbai Indians to bat in conditions that must have made tournament organisers wince after they backed South Africa as hosts ahead of England partly because of the weather. Drizzle was in the air and the outfield looked lush. The only thing persuading Andrew Flintoff that he hadn't just rocked up at Derby or Northampton was the sight of Table Mountain, although even that was shrouded in party-pooping cloud.
The result was that Tendulkar and his opening partner Sanath Jayasuriya actually had to play themselves in, a concept that struggled to catch on in India in 2008. The first boundary did not come until the 10th ball - that was only a leg-side tuck for four - and it took until the third over, when Tendulkar lofted Manpreet Gony over extra cover, that the first shot was played in anger. Look out for the role of the seaming new ball as this tournament progresses.
"At the start of the day the wicket was damp," Tendulkar said. "In the first six or seven overs it was not easy to get the ball away. Later, when it dried up a bit, there were more shot options." Asked whether he intended to bat through the innings on a regular basis, he replied: "If we disclose all our strategies, they won't be a secret any more."
As wickets kept falling at the other end, Tendulkar's secret may have been that he just kept on going. It wasn't always easy. A quadruped of indeterminate pedigree made its way onto the field after 6.1 overs and wouldn't leave for 11 minutes, thus eating into crucial advertising time and, as security guards missed a succession of rugby tackles. Then, the man in charge of the musical system held up play for a further two minutes, obliviously banging his drums while the players waited and waited. Finally came the time-out.
But Tendulkar was not to be distracted and found a more gung-ho ally in Abhishek Nayar. In fact it was Nayar alone who briefly stirred the ghosts of McCullum past, mowing three sixes in four balls off Flintoff and making a mockery of the IPL's market economy in the process. While Flintoff fetched $1.55m, Nayar was originally signed for just $40,000 - a figure that was upped to $100,000 this year. Take pro-rata calculations into account, and one Flintoff in effect equals 10 Nayars.
Tendulkar needs no such formula to work out his worth. He gave himself room to ease Thilan Thushara over extra cover, then moved to a half-century by Jacob Oram for four over long-off. Another boundary in Flintoff's final over provided a final flourish. Last year, McCullum hit 13 sixes all by himself. Today, Mumbai had to make do with Nayar's brief flurry.
Yet Tendulkar's calmness had quietly built the kind of total - 165 for 7 - that commentators had decreed in advance would be a match-winner. And so it proved. Matthew Hayden enjoyed himself for a while to hit 44 from 35 balls, and Flintoff contributed a muscular but flawed 24 off 23, but not even Dhoni's notoriously broad blade could keep up with a mounting asking rate. "We were let down by our bowlers," Dhoni said afterwards. "We didn't bowl as we planned."
Tougher conditions for batsmen here in South Africa could place a greater onus on tried and tested techniques. To the relief of the purists, the sloggers might not have everything their own way. It was a strange kind of start, but Tendulkar's thoughtfulness made it an intriguing, and possibly tone-setting, one.
Victor Brown is a freelance cricket writer