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The perfect beginning

The Champions League got the start their organisers would have dreamed of, a stunning opening ceremony followed by a high-scoring thriller

JP Duminy converted the opening match from a one-sided encounter to a thriller  •  AFP

JP Duminy converted the opening match from a one-sided encounter to a thriller  •  AFP

There was no history, there wasn't any familiar context, and there certainly wasn't any passionate traditional rivalry but, as Brian Lara asked so memorably in his retirement speech, did the package entertain us? The answer was a screaming deafness in Nagpur, 918 kms away from Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium. The Challenger Trophy, India's premier 50-over cricket, filled with stars such as MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh, was being played there in almost total silence. The crowd was conspicuous by its absence and the television ratings of the Champions League in that city should be a revealing nugget.
Meanwhile, in Bangalore, the immediacy of the event didn't help in judging the magnitude but you could feel that you were watching the landscape of cricket change. You felt the buzz when the shouts of "Kallis Kallis", never a huge crowd favourite in these parts, thundered around the arena when he was batting. And the surprise increased when Cape Cobras were repeatedly booed through the game. You were used to Indian fans booing Australia but here they ganged up against a team of relative unknowns simply because they were the away side. However uncivil it might sound to the purists, boos are as much a barometer of a tournament's success as is applause. "It was intimidating and probably the reason why our fielding was so shaky at the start," Cobras' captain Andrew Puttick said later.
The first season will probably be too early to judge this format's success but one will get an idea when two overseas clubs face off. Will the crowd be interested then? Who will they applaud? And who will they boo? The IPL 2 in South Africa earlier this year offers some indication - and hope to the organisers. It was a displaced tournament in every sense but the South Africans warmed to it. Even the almost inconsequential Karnataka Premier League that was played bereft of stars and played amid much criticism and cynicism drew full houses in Mysore and pulled in 15,000 people for the final in Bangalore.
Tonight, though, the crowd lapped up the entertainment. The evening got off to a cracking start with a tightly-packed opening ceremony. Lalit Modi sure knows how to put up a show. Japanese drummers gave it a smashing beginning, Chinese Shaolin Monks showed off Tai Chi and Kung fu in a fast-paced, spellbinding performance, the Grammy-award winner Chaka Khan sang I feel for you, reggae singer Shaggy kept the crowd going with his hit Feel the rush and British pop star Jamelia belted out Super Star before a laser show and a dazzling fireworks display.
Ultimately, though, the tournament will live and die by its cricket, which doesn't have to be of the highest quality but it certainly has to be entertaining. Tonight's game didn't have great bowling, barring the opening spells from Charles Langveldt and Praveen Kumar, the fielding at times was terrible and only three people sparkled with the bat but it see-sawed till the very end and the whole package was entertaining.
The highlight of the evening was how JP Duminy silenced the raucous crowd, a clear indication that this tournament has the scope to throw up the little contexts and subtexts to make it successful: The people seemed to care.
Duminy's classy knock converted the game from a one-sided encounter to the thrilling opening game this tournament needed. There was a bit of self-redemption in it too. Throughout this year's IPL, Duminy was involved in many near-misses. He would revive the chase from a hopeless position, take the team very close to victory but could not finish the job. It has obviously hurt him. "It was very satisfying that today I didn't leave it [to others], I finished it completely," he said. "It felt nice. It was the best innings that I have played in this format."
The highlight of the evening was how the raucous crowd was silenced by JP Duminy. That silence confirmed that this tournament has the scope to throw up the little contexts and subtexts to make it successful
His is normally not a power game; his batting evokes memories of Arjuna Ranatunga with his cut shots, lap shots and that swing over square-leg that were Ranatunga's strengths but today he found the extra zing to pepper the boundary more often than usual.
The battle against his South African team-mates in the national side was engrossing as ever. There were a couple of moments that were almost a flashback of the previous edition of IPL, though with a different outcome. Playing for Mumbai Indians, Duminy had stepped out to Kallis, who responded with a bouncer before following it up with a few choice words. Today, Duminy walked out, Kallis banged it in short but the batsman pulled it forcefully over the midwicket boundary. He swung Roelof van der Merwe twice over wide long-on to emphatically win the mini-battle against his national team-mates.
However, it was local hero Kumble who was at the receiving end of the decisive blow of the game. Kumble was into his final over, with 25 needed off 15. You felt Kumble knew the only chance for his team was to take out Duminy and you could almost sense the two-fingered flighted googly was going to come out at that stage. That's his go-to delivery against attacking left-handed batsmen when he is looking for a wicket. He flights it outside off, invites the big shot and sees the batsman succumb. He tossed it up, the crowd who were chanting his name till then watched on in silence, and Duminy went for the big swing. The white ball landed amid the stunned gathering behind the wide midwicket boundary and you knew the game was over then. The silence was deafening.
Somehow it seemed appropriate, for a club-based format, that the last over was bowled by a man who has never played for India, and that an unfancied side from South Africa prevailed over the favorites. Not many, if any, in the crowd clapped as the winning shot was played. You could say they weren't sporting but you could also say they were hurt by the loss. And that can only be a good thing for a tournament like this where fan loyalty is such a priceless commodity. A few scowls and a few sullen faces aren't a bad thing for the box-office.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo