Bangalore Royal Challengers v Deccan Chargers, IPL, Cape Town April 22, 2009

Gilchrist lends weight to opening statements

Victor Brown
The wisdom ahead of this tournament as experts tried to compare and contrast Indian conditions with those in South Africa was that the new ball was going to be crucial. It has indeed been crucial, but just not in the way people expected

The wisdom ahead of this tournament as experts tried to compare and contrast Indian conditions with those in South Africa was that the new ball was going to be crucial. Here, finally, would be the chance for Indian Premier League seamers to get their own back after last year's succession of subcontinental shirt-fronts left them desperately searching for creases and rivets. And it's true: the new ball has indeed been crucial. Just not in the way people expected.

Tonight's blast-from-the-past 71 in 45 balls by Adam Gilchrist, who added 46 for Deccan Chargers' first wicket with Herschelle Gibbs in only 3.5 overs, continued a mini-trend that may persuade fast bowlers it really is a batsman's game after all. And it didn't take Gilchrist long to make the point either: he pulled Praveen Kumar's second ball of the match for four, carved the third off the back foot through the covers for four more, then cut the fourth raspingly for another boundary. The all-important momentum seemed to have swung early - and decisively.

The Gilchrist-Gibbs combination is not the only opening pair capable of reducing grown men to gibbering wrecks. On Sunday, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir biffed 58 in 4.5 overs to win a rain-affected match against Kings XI Punjab in Cape Town. The following evening in Port Elizabeth, Matthew Hayden and Parthiv Patel had butchered 106 by the time they were separated in the 11th over. Yesterday in Durban, Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle merrily put on 57 inside six overs to unwittingly ensure a D/L-assisted win over poor old Punjab.

Even before that, we had Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya beginning the tournament with a sensible 39, not to mention Ravi Bopara and Karan Goel adding a forgotten 67 inside six overs for Kings XI Punjab the next day. The idea that the extra life in South African pitches would at least spare the new-ball bowlers a battering, is fighting for its life.

With that in mind, Gilchrist may not have been the batsman Kumar, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis or anyone else for that matter wanted to bowl to. Gilchrist hasn't played top-flight cricket since the first IPL, where he managed 436 runs at an average of 33 and a strike-rate of 137 - respectable figures in a losing Deccan team. The word was his only game between then and the start of this year's tournament was a Twenty20 match in aid of the Australian bush-fire appeal. Even so, the aura lives on.

After that opening salvo against Kumar, Gilchrist cut Steyn twice for four, then helped him back over his head for a straight six with the ease of a man peeling a banana. After two overs, Deccan had 27 on the board and the contribution of Gibbs was a single. Soon after Kallis disappeared onto the sightscreen at the Wynberg End, and had to crick his neck again next ball as Gilchrist spanked him straight down the ground for four.

A pull for six off Jesse Ryder brought up a coruscating 31-ball half-century, which was duly celebrated with six more over wide mid-on. And when Gilchrist advanced on Anil Kumble, who adjusted his line at last moment, the result was an improvised whip over midwicket for the six that brought up Deccan's 100. With Australia crumbling today to 168 in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan, it was not difficult to come over all nostalgic.

The end came courtesy of a stunningly nonchalant catch by Virat Kohli at short extra cover as Gilchrist looked to launch Kevin Pietersen for another boundary, but then it was always going to take something special to stop him. And although Fidel Edwards hit back for the new-ball brethren by knocking over Ryder with a gorgeous inswinging yorker as Bangalore began their reply, that simply highlighted the excellence of what had gone before. And it showed Edwards' fast-bowling comrades that invention and daring will be needed as this tournament progresses if the shine isn't going to disappear off the new ball more quickly than the smile off Ryder's face.