An innings to divide opinion

It's no exaggeration to say that Robin Uthappa's performance would have been watched keenly by fans on both sides of this particular IPL divide. Fans of the Mumbai Indians would have wanted to see whether an investment of US$800,000 made any sort of sense, while those wearing the Royal Challengers crest would have wanted to know if their team should have broken the bank to keep him on home turf. After a patchy 38-ball 48, the jury will still be out on both sides.

Once Dominic Thornley's blood had been spilt on the pitch, and Sanath Jayasuriya run out brilliantly by Zaheer, the onus was always on Uthappa to justify that exorbitant price tag. The crowd certainly gave him wholehearted support, with chants of "Robin, Robin" cascading through the stands as he and Pinal Shah rebuilt the innings.

Uthappa enjoyed most success against Vinay Kumar, his Karnataka colleague (17 from 10 balls), and Jacques Kallis (16 from seven). Watching him bat though, it was impossible not to be struck by how limited he is as a player. Apart from the hoick over midwicket and the scoop to fine leg, a shot for which he seems to have developed an unhealthy fetish, there was little to his repertoire.

No matter what the line or length, the shovel past the wicketkeeper seemed to be his first choice. You couldn't help but contrast his methods with those of Suresh Raina and S Badrinath, both of whom batted with such elegance on Saturday while scoring at the frenetic pace required in this format.

His dismissal was as inevitable as a sunset. One paddle too many, and a smart stumping from Mark Boucher. It was reward too for a fine spell from B Akhil, whose only blemish was one more awful misfield at short third man. Vinay, the other Bangalore boy to be blooded, endured a harsh baptism, with Shaun Pollock taking 20 from a final over where he struck the ball as crisply as he had in his international heyday.

For Pollock too, this was a chance to say hello to those he shared a dressing room with till not so long ago. Like Glenn McGrath on Saturday, he offered proof that class doesn't necessarily erode with retirement. Having cruised to 28 from 12 balls, he was inch perfect with the ball until Boucher managed to muscle one over cover. When Boucher then miscued another biff after giving his former captain the charge, Pollock allowed himself the briefest of smiles.

The real story of the Mumbai bowling though was Ashish Nehra, Indian cricket's [Missing in] Action Man. Five years ago, he was one of the best bowlers as India stormed to the World Cup final, nudging the speedometer to 149 kph at one stage. But a succession of injuries and doubts over his attitude have stalled a career that once promised so much. He hasn't played for India since September 2005, and you have to go back to Rawalpindi four years ago for his last Test cap.

Though he snaffled Virat Kohli, his Delhi team-mate, with a bouncer, this was by no means a fairytale return, with his four overs going for 45. Mumbai's slender hopes disappeared with the last six balls he bowled, as Boucher and Kallis clubbed 19 with meaty swings of the bat. When a devastating straight hit from Boucher bounced off the corrugated iron roof, it must have sounded like the death-knell for some of the game's most raucous and passionate fans. In India's cricket heartland, it was an East London boy that had the last word, just as he had at the end of a thrilling Test eight years ago.