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The Greatest IPL Performances 2008-2020

The greatest IPL performances, No. 6: Brendon McCullum's 158 not out vs the Royal Challengers Bangalore

The best advertisement for the IPL came in the very first game

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
We polled our staff for their picks of the top ten best batting, bowling and all-round performances in the IPL through its history. Here's No. 6
It was the innings that changed cricket forever. On the competition's opening night, Brendon McCullum's breathtaking 158 not out confirmed that the IPL was not merely a showbiz concept but the future of the sport: futuristic gold helmets and cheerleaders brought the glitz, but the league could not flourish without a world-class on-field spectacle.
There is an irony, therefore, in the fact that the abstract image of McCullum's innings has been discussed so much more than the innings itself in the years that have followed. Its significance and its wider meaning for the IPL was transformative, but it also served as a handbook for a generation of T20 batters.
McCullum went into the season under pressure. While he was an established international batter, his US$700,000 (Rs 2.8 crore approximately) price tag in the auction raised traditionalists' eyebrows: was he really more valuable than his Kolkata Knight Riders team-mate Ricky Ponting, or Test greats like Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath? Certainly, there were no signs of that in the first over of the game, with Praveen Kumar extracting enough from the conditions to induce two false shots and even a leave.
By the time Zaheer Khan was standing at the top of his mark to bowl the second over, McCullum had 0 off five balls. He could have been selfish, opting to see off the new ball and take the innings deep, but that is not the McCullum way.
He attacked. After failing to connect with a cut, he finally got off the mark with a pair of boundaries over midwicket - a sweetly timed pick-up, and a full-blooded pull. Shimmying down to Khan's fourth ball, he was beaten for pace looking to swing to leg, but the power in his shot meant it hardly mattered: his thick edge flew away over third man's head for six.
Another four through the leg side followed the ball later, and McCullum was in his groove, making a mockery of the short Chinnaswamy boundaries. A powerful thrash through midwicket off Kumar flew away for four, before a vicious pull and a towering straight drive in Ashley Noffke's first over, both going for six, took KKR to 50 within the first four overs.
The wicket of Sourav Ganguly at the other end prompted a brief slowdown, but McCullum was soon back up and running, with sixes in consecutive overs by Sunil Joshi. Cameron White came on in the 15th over hoping to stem the tide but disappeared for two enormous sixes over midwicket and a four, taking McCullum to 99. A cover drive for two brought him to three figures - prompting unbridled joy from Shah Rukh Khan, KKR's owner, in the stands.
Perhaps the shot of the night was a deft paddle sweep for six off Zaheer in the 17th over. McCullum was particularly punishing at the death. As Kumar and Jacques Kallis missed their lengths, he hit 39 off his last 11 balls, including five sixes, pounding the leg-side boundary time and again. Anything back of a length was pulled; anything full was bludgeoned down the ground. The method was simple but the result was extraordinary.
Innings of 158 do not come around often in T20 cricket. In the 816 IPL matches since that night in Bengaluru, only one has featured a higher individual score - Chris Gayle's 175 not out for RCB in 2013. Even now, Gayle's is one of only five bigger innings in the history of the format.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98