In the first match of the IPL in 2008, Brendon McCullum smashed an unbeaten 158 from just 73 balls to set up a crushing win for his side. A year later, as season two got underway across the Indian Ocean in different conditions and under grey skies, Sachin Tendulkar batted 20 overs for an unbeaten 59 from 49 balls. It was as valuable as McCullum's blitzkrieg, if utterly different in execution and appeal, for it came on a track not entirely conducive to batting and laid the platform for Mumbai Indians' victory.
Stumbling and bumbling, Mumbai managed to put together a competitive total after the core of their vaunted batting struggled to cope with the uneven bounce at Newlands. There were few fireworks from the big bats and the team owed plenty to the vast experience of Tendulkar, who absorbed the pressure superbly. Where Chennai's pacers were tidy in restricting runs during the middle stages of Mumbai's innings, it was the spinners Harbhajan Singh and Sanath Jayasuriya who derailed Chennai. They varied their pace and reined in the big hitters before Lasith Malinga kept the tail under control.
The pre-match drizzle in cloudy Cape Town influenced MS Dhoni's decision to field on a damp pitch, and though Mumbai's opening partnership yielded 39 in 5.4 overs, it wasn't convincing. Jayasuriya slashed and swiped and survived a run-out before he mowed fellow Sri Lankan Thilan Thushara to midwicket for 26. The ball didn't come on to the bat, as was evident in Tendulkar's frequent grimaces and constant shuffling to manoeuvre the bowling. Tendulkar attempted and connected with a few risky shots over the infield and was dropped on 10 by Matthew Hayden at first slip, off a leading edge induced by Andrew Flintoff.
Play was then held up for 12 minutes when a dog found its way onto the field. Failing to be enticed by whistles, calls, dives and even an inviting snack, the canine intruder got bored and finally trudged away. After the resumption Chennai's bowlers made swift inroads.
Shikhar Dhawan struggled for fluency and was undone by the slow bounce as he top-edged Manpreet Gony. Gony then held on to a sharp reflex catch to get JP Duminy with a clever bouncer in his next over and, taking the cue, Joginder Sharma dropped short and had Dwayne Bravo pulling to deep square leg. It was proof that the short-pitched ball can work well on such tracks. With Tendulkar keeping one end up, Abhishek Nayar walked out and played an invaluable cameo that provided a late push. Nayar larruped Flintoff for three sixes in a 22-run over in his 14-ball 35, while Tendulkar kept the innings alive by batting through the 20 overs. That 46-run partnership would prove decisive.
Chennai's chase was dented in the first over when Parthiv Patel steered Malinga to Tendulkar at slip. Suresh Raina caressed an impressive boundary in Zaheer Khan's first over but fell in the next, pulling Bravo to deep square leg where Rohan Raje made a difficult chance look easy. Malinga was tight, and Tendulkar showed the value of taking pace off the ball as a run-checking tactic by bringing on spinners at both ends, as Chennai's batsmen remained restless.
And as long as there is limited-overs cricket there will linger the prospect of the spinners' choking the opposition during the middle overs, especially when an Indian and a Sri Lankan are bowling. Today Harbhajan and Jayasuriya did that job. Flintoff didn't last long against Harbhajan, going for a wild swipe and popping back an easy catch.
Hayden - who bullied young medium-pacer Raje for three successive fours and drilled his old friend Harbhajan for a straight six - chased a wide one from Jayasuriya and picked out a diving Zaheer at cover. Jacob Oram then perished to an ugly slog against Jayasuriya, leaving Dhoni with plenty to do.
Dhoni swung his bat freely but the rest perished with a whimper. Malinga gave away nothing and his crafty yorkers and reverse-swinging variations netted him excellent figures of 3 for 15 from four parsimonious overs.
The crowd had filed in two hours ahead of the toss in gloomy conditions, and by the end of the first game of a double-header day they'd seen the weather clear and the ball go past the boundary several times. Mumbai celebrated the win animatedly in front of a healthy crowd - it wasn't exactly a boisterous Wankhede cauldron, but the IPL thinktank has reason to smile after the tournament opener.