Long before the first ball is bowled, the M Chinnaswamy Stadium is generally a heaving, bobbing, throbbing sea of red bursting at the seams come the Indian Premier League.
On Tuesday (April 12), it was decidedly less than packed to the rafters as Royal Challengers Bangalore began their season nine campaign, against Sunrisers Hyderabad. But even at three-quarters capacity, the Chinnaswamy produces more noise than any other venue in the country.
The screams that had accompanied Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli to the middle after the home side had been put in by David Warner temporarily went out of circulation when Bhuvneshwar Kumar sneaked one off Gayle’s thigh pad and on to leg-stump in the second over of the night. Hyderabad’s celebrations were vigorous, but also tinged with apprehension. New batsman in, AB de Villiers.
Apprehension turned to harsh reality as de Villiers sent the Hyderabad bowlers, with the notable exception of Mustafizur Rahman (2-26) on IPL debut, on a hiding to nothing. With an initially off-colour Kohli for company, de Villiers turned on the style during a sizzling, conventional 42-ball 82, comfortably shading the captain during a second-wicket stand worth 157.
De Villiers departed to a standing ovation and watched with unabashed admiration from the dugout as Sarfaraz Khan emulated the master of 360 degrees, smashing Bhuvneshwar to every corner of the ground during a 10-ball 35 that propelled Bangalore to a massive 227 for 4. In a tournament of modest totals thus far, it was by a distance the best batting effort, and not necessarily only because the total was monumental.
Hyderabad needed their most explosive weapon to fire big time if they were to get anywhere close to the target, and Warner didn’t disappoint. Lashing out with a ferocity for which Bangalore were prepared but that still rocked them, he raced to his fifty off just 21 deliveries. Hyderabad, however, had little to show either side of their captain’s pyrotechnics.
Bangalore kept picking up wickets in the immediacy of Warner’s fall, caught on the pull off Shane Watson to ensure that they trooped out comprehensive 45-run victors after restricting Hyderabad to 182 for 6. Almost from the beginning, Warner was fighting a lonely, losing battle. Shikhar Dhawan had hung around long enough for the first-wicket alliance to move to 35 when he played inside the line to Parveez Rasool’s first ball, which drifted in and straightened to peg off-pole back. Rasool bowled his medium-paced offspinners tidily enough to complement Adam Milne, Watson and Harshal Patel, but Bangalore’s task was made easier by the fact that not until Eoin Morgan, batting too low at No. 6, and Ashish Reddy joined hands for an entertaining sixth-wicket partnership of 46 were they put under any pressure after Warner’s dismissal.
Warner had just set himself up for a big one with two sixes and a four in the first over from Yuzvendra Chahal, but a top-edged pull that led to his downfall was followed by twin strikes from Chahal, sandwiching Milne’s eviction of Moises Henriques. From then on, it was routine business.
As impressive as the extension of Kohli’s breathtaking recent form and Sarfaraz’s intrepid finishing touches were, it was de Villiers’s magnificence that stood out during Bangalore’s stint.
Bhuvneshwar made sure Gayle’s ordinary run against Hyderabad continued – the Jamaican now has only 113 runs in eight innings against them. But his first ball to de Villiers, a little short and a little wide outside off, was so superbly timed that it nearly took Morgan off his feet at point. Dot, the scorebook showed, but the show of intent was unmissable. Hyderabad knew they were in for trouble, and de Villiers obliged.
Led by Ashish Nehra, Hyderabad’s pace attack held its own for the first three overs when the ball ducked around a little, but once de Villiers got stuck into Nehra in the fourth with a crunch wide of mid-on followed by a straight six off a slower ball and a cracking back foot punch, the floodgates opened inexorably. Kohli was off the boil, his characteristic fluency elusive, but de Villiers more than made up with strokes of such class, finesse and occasional bursts of naked power that the stadium was engulfed in one ceaseless burst of approbation.
There was an extraordinary flat-batted six that sailed over cover off Bhuvneshwar, and serious punishment for Karn Sharma, the legspinner who alone conceded six sixes including three off his last three deliveries to Watson. Karn’s introduction coincided with the return of Kohli’s touch, and Warner looked at his wit’s end as the second-wicket partnership assumed alarming proportions.
It didn’t help Hyderabad’s cause that Nehra limped off with an apparent groin strain after the first delivery of his third over. His replacement Reddy went for 25 from his 11 deliveries, but he wasn’t the only one to suffer; Karn finished with 0 for 57 while Bhuvneshwar’s twin successes were marred by a 28-run last over that inflated his numbers to 2 for 55.
Bhuvneshwar eventually snapped the second-wicket stand with a peachy yorker that snuck under Kohli’s bat, by which time the skipper had danced to 75. When Mustafizur ended de Villiers’s quest for a century and strangled Watson down leg off successive balls, Bangalore looked to be selling themselves a few short. But that was only till Sarfaraz arrived in a blaze of boundaries.
Walking around in his crease and favouring the arc behind the stumps on both sides, he unleashed untold mayhem during a fifth-wicket stand of 44 off just 15 in which Kedar Jadhav’s contribution was 8. It rounded off a first half of unmatched entertainment—20 fours, 14 sixes. As it turned out, it was unmatchable, too.
Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.