Tidy Deccan overwhelm Kolkata
Could the script have been any different from last year's start for the Kolkata Knight Riders? Brendon McCullum's intoxicating 158 had taken them to an enormous victory a year ago, but they were outplayed by an efficient Deccan Chargers outfit on a juicy pitch in Cape Town. It has been a weekend to savour for bowlers, and each member of Deccan's attack did their bit to leave Kolkata scrambling to reach triple-digits. Herschelle Gibbs, coming off a triumphant series against Australia, and Rohit Sharma, back in the country where he made his name in 2007, then made sure Deccan's campaign didn't begin in the dismal way last season's had.
Kolkata had packed their batting with foreign players, but it wasn't enough to prevent a hapless batting performance. Their formidable top order was handcuffed by Deccan's new-ball bowlers. Fidel Edwards was fast and frugal - consistently around the 140kph mark, he gave away only six runs, the lowest conceded in a completed IPL spell - and RP Singh evicted the Kolkata openers early.
Everything went right for Deccan. With Kolkata on 2 for 1 after three overs, Gayle broke free with a crash past point for four and a mow over midwicket for six. Then Adam Gilchrist pushed a fielder back to long-on, where Gayle promptly holed out next ball.
Sourav Ganguly had a short-lived and uncomfortable stay, beaten several times, and was unable to find the gap through the off side when he connected. Even fans protesting his removal from the captaincy can't defend the shot that brought about his dismissal - backing away and then stabbing at a wide, full delivery, only to nick it to slip.
Despite rain and a floodlight failure causing the game to be delayed by nearly an hour-and-a-half, the organisers decided to have the seven-and-a-half-minute interval after the tenth over. Aakash Chopra and Brad Hodge had dragged Kolkata to 31 for 3 by then, but also found Pragyan Ojha's left-arm spin a handful. Both Chopra and Laxmi Shukla perished giving Ojha the charge, only to be undone by the turn.
Hodge, the leading run-getter in Twenty20s, played a sensible hand. He entered in the fifth over and knocked around the singles before opening out in the 16th. Hodge slammed a couple of boundaries before slapping Scott Styris straight to Herschelle Gibbs at point. The tailenders threw their bat around but RP took two in three balls to deny Kolkata even the modest satisfaction of playing out their 20 overs.
A target of 102 was never going to be too big a challenge, especially as Kolkata had left out Ajantha Mendis on a pitch spinners have thrived on all weekend. Adam Gilchrist hit a couple of trademark boundaries before top-edging to square leg and VVS Laxman, after bludgeoning an out-of-character pull for six, was dismissed due to an old failing - poor running between the wickets.
That brought together Rohit and Gibbs, who knuckled down to work a few singles and steady the innings. Gibbs then started playing some inventive shots, a bent-knee sweep off Ganguly for four followed by a deft dab towards third man. Any pressure that Kolkata had built up vanished, and neither batsmen was afraid of lofting the ball after that.
Rohit joined in the fun once Ajit Agarkar was introduced, a huge six over long-off and a couple of boundaries helping take 17 runs off his first over. Some more merry hitting from the pair finished off the game with nearly seven overs to spare.
Kolkata had talked of a radical multiple-captain theory before the tournament, but they need to come up with some fresh ideas if they are improve on today's dreadful show.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo