Many a time over the last 15 years or so fans of this great game have wondered what it would be like if Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya opened together in a limited-overs game and really turned it on. Today they got a glimpse.
The two masters of the limited-overs game, with a combined age of nearly 76, treated Port Elizabeth to the cleanest, purest exhibition of batting that this season of the IPL has seen. Tendulkar paved the way with a sublime innings and Jayasuriya followed suit with an explosive hand, the veteran pair combining to raise a century stand in 52 balls that flummoxed Kolkata Knight Riders. That stunning opening assault formed the crux of Mumbai Indians' 187 and though Kolkata restricted the damage with six wickets for 48 runs after the tactical break, the damage had been done. Their only realistic chance at victory rested on their explosive openers' shoulders but once they were gone inside three overs the chase was basically kaput.
Mumbai's first five overs were busy, without being spectacular. Tendulkar was beaten a couple times by Ishant Sharma but upper-cut a six and flicked a four in Ashok Dinda's first over. That set the tone for a busy innings, taken up a level when he pulled Ishant for six from outside off stump.
While Tendulkar whisked the ball off his pads and slapped through point, Jayasuriya didn't get much strike. His first shot in anger was a chip just over extra cover's fingertips and a signature clip to fine leg followed. Mumbai were 45 for 0 in five overs. What followed was carnage.
Jayasuriya, who was on 8 as Tendulkar scurried to 30, launched Sourav Ganguly's gentle military-medium stuff for consecutive sixes; Tendulkar swept Ajantha Mendis for six; Chris Gayle went for ten in six balls; Mendis was dumped for two sixes by each batsman in his second over. Tendulkar's fourth six, a deft pick-up over midwicket off Mendis, raised his fifty from 34 balls. Jayasuriya had blasted 33 from 13 balls. The 100 was up in 8.4 overs. When the tactical break was taken Tendulkar was 60 off 39 and Jayasuriya 43 off 21, Mumbai 111 for 0.
For a man who has only played one international Twenty20, Tendulkar batted with amazing fluency. He got the wrists into play superbly, pulling and cutting hard, and used his crease to negotiate the pacers. Mendis wasn't even allowed to settle; Gayle was effortlessly reverse-swept.
There were no crude shots, no cross-batted slogs from Tendulkar and Jayasuriya. This was clinical hitting - each veteran knew the field and backed himself to pick the gaps. It was the experience of 1138 combined international games coming together in a mesmerizing mosaic of boundaries. In between clearing his front leg to lift Mendis there were clever late dabs from Tendulkar, neat tickles from Jayasuriya.
That assault was in stark contrast to the second half of Mumbai's innings, when Kolkata regrouped. The scoring slowed after the break and Tendulkar fell to Laxmi Shukla, looking to take the ball from off stump and work it to leg. Harbhajan Singh strode in, clubbed 18 from 8 balls, and sent a full toss to deep midwicket. Jayasuriya looked for width but instead chipped to cover for 52 from 32 balls. Then Abhishek Nayar was run out, Dwayne Bravo top-edged to the deep, and Shikhar Dhawan edged Ishant. Gayle bowled a decent last over and Mumbai were unable to end on with a flurry.
Kolkata needed almost 9.5 runs an over inside a stadium rumbling like a Jay Z amplifier, and the pressure of chasing a large total under lights affected the Kolkata openers early in their innings. Brendon McCullum shouldered arms to his first ball before he steered Lasith Malinga to point. Gayle thumped Bravo for the 150th six in the IPL only to edge his West Indian team-mate to slip.
Sourav Ganguly wasn't allowed to come onto the front foot and so he used his feet to loft Bravo down the ground for six and four, and with that try for some momentum. But Ganguly struggled to find the boundaries thereafter and Brad Hodge never really threatened with 24 off 22 balls. Both were to fall against the tidy seam-up bowling of Nayar in successive overs, the last nail firmly hammered into Kolkata's coffin.
Nayar, Bravo, Zaheer Khan and Malinga didn't have to do much but keep it near the stumps and wait for an urgent shot. Each struck rather easily and the rest of the batting card made for disappointing reading as Kolkata fell short by 92 runs. From 71 for 3 when Hodge fell, Kolkata folded for 95 in 15.2 overs.
A powerful batting display was followed by an efficient, shining effort in the field, aptly demonstrating that Mumbai pretty much have all the bases covered.