Kallis steps in the right direction
For a while tonight it looked as if Bangalore Royal Challengers were going to live down to the tag which last year turned into an albatross: that of the Test team trying to play Twenty20. Wasim Jaffer, one of the chief culprits in 2008, was struggling to make headway against Zaheer Khan, and - after Jaffer clipped him straight to square leg - Robin Uthappa was busy (or not very busy) playing out a maiden against Lasith Malinga. Bangalore fans could have been forgiven for shivering for reasons other than the cool Johannesburg evening.
But Jacques Kallis was having none of it. Kallis, too, came in for criticism last year when an average of 18 and a strike-rate of 108 did not quite match up to his $900,000 valuation (and that's before we even get onto his bowling figures of four wickets at 77 each and nine runs an over). But he has never stopped tinkering with his technique, spending time with those he trusts and ironing out the kind of flaws which, for example, persuaded him to shoulder arms fatally to the first ball of the match against Delhi at Port Elizabeth last week.
The results were on show here, never more so than during the fourth over of Bangalore's pursuit of Mumbai's 149 for 4. Malinga, previously the tournament's most miserly bowler, was flicked nonchalantly behind square leg for six, then square cut for six more two balls later. A less brutal flick off the hip for four in the same over showed Kallis' timing was intact too.
If anything, the early demise of Jaffer had been a blessing in disguise. It meant memories of last year were not able to linger for long and allowed Uthappa - whose previous six innings had brought a top score of only 20 - enough time to get to grips with conditions before cutting loose towards the end with three boundaries in an over off Sachin Tendulkar and a violent pull for six off Dwayne Bravo that skimmed off the roof of one of the stands and flew into a neighbouring block of flats.
Kallis can still infuriate with his running between the wickets, but almost everything else about this innings was perfectly timed, including the passing of the baton to Uthappa for the final onslaught. Seventy-six off 10 became 28 off five became a stroll in the park.
Bangalore have now won three in a row dating back to the game at Durban in which Kevin Pietersen daringly opened the bowling against Kolkata Knight Riders with two spinners - including himself. And, in a table which - with the exception of poor old Kolkata - currently resembles Johannesburg at rush-hour Bangalore are now joint-top on points with Delhi and Deccan.
For Mumbai, this was a missed opportunity. They came into the game having won every match in which they had batted first and lost the ones where they had batted second. Victory here would have made them outright IPL leaders, and Bravo's late blast with the bat seemed to have given them a decent chance. But Kallis lined up Zaheer in the first over of the Bangalore reply and - one half-chance at point aside - never looked back on his way to an IPL best of 69 not out off 59 balls. Test team? Perhaps no longer.
Victor Brown is a freelance cricket writer