The 10th edition of the flashiest and most glamorous show in cricket got underway at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium on Wednesday as the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) took on Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), a repeat of the final game of last season. That match was nip and tuck all the way where as the 2017 IPL season opener was all one-way traffic, indicating the gains SRH have made and the tremendous losses RCB — mostly through injuries — have been saddled with.
The team from Hyderabad were almost single-handedly carried in 2016 by their captain David Warner and it was imperative that they needed much improved contributions from their middle order if they had hopes of repeating as champs this season. Even as their trump card from previous year, Mustafizur Rahman’s availability for this season is in doubt, in the opening match, SRH’s middle order made their presence felt.
Contribute they did. Moises Henriques and Yuvraj Singh combined for 114 runs (57 percent of runs scored off the bat by SRH) in 64 deliveries (53 percent of 120 balls) at an impressive strike rate of 178. Yuvraj, who has found a remarkable second wind to his career, and has resurrected it by his inclusion in the Indian national limited-overs international side, blitzed the hapless RCB bowlers to record his fastest IPL half-century off just 23 balls. One would be remiss to not acknowledge Shikhar Dhawan’s contribution too: 40 off 31 balls and partnership of 74 runs with Henriques. The SRH batting effort even received an exclamation point to round off the innings from Ben Cutting, the hero from 2016 final, blasting two sixes in the closing moments of the innings.
That the Sunrisers could sprint past the total of 200 runs without a significant contribution from their talismanic skipper would have been unthinkable last season. It was mainly possible due to Yuvraj turning the clock back, whacking bowlers all around the park, and making fans wonder whether they were in 2017 or it was still 2007, the year Yuvraj made all of India fall in love with T20 with his immense knocks at the inaugural World T20 in South Africa.
Yuvraj has always been very good player of medium pace and a demolisher of poor bowling. With RCB lacking bowlers that possessed skills that could have really troubled Yuvraj, i.e., sheer pace or quality spin, it was almost pre-ordained that the left-hander would rule the roost. Sure, he received two opportunities, but the Punjab batsman knows to make second chances count. And so he did.
Sreenath Aravind and Aniket Choudhary were never going to pose much problem when Yuvraj is on song. The first six hit by Yuvraj was a vintage thump down the ground that kept sailing. It was bookended by two boundaries, all of the first three deliveries in the 13th over sent down by Choudhary. The first one was streaky but there were no doubts about what followed in the next two balls. A sweet loft between extra cover and long off, and a pull shot nailed to perfection sending the ball racing to the rope. In all, Yuvraj plundered 21 runs of eight Choudhary deliveries, and 13 off Aravind’s six.
Tymal Mills, the highest paid bowler in IPL history, was secured by RCB in the auction as a replacement for Mitchell Starc. Mills performed admirably in the England-India T20Is earlier this year which convinced his employers to open their cheque book for him. One of the deliveries he had bowled in that three game series that made people sit up and take notice was the back-of-the-hand slower delivery that had batsmen in knots. In fact, Mills removed Yuvraj in that series using one of those.
In the 19th over of the innings, Mills finally had the chance to bowl to Yuvraj who had by then raced to 52 runs in just 2 deliveries. Due to his prior experience, this time, a wisened Yuvraj was ready for the slower, but Mills surprised him with a quick one but 140 kmph was not going to be a hassle for Yuvraj that was set. He coolly flicked it past short fine leg for four. Mills responded with his slower delivery but Yuvraj was ready, and deposited it over square leg for a huge six. Mills did get his own back next ball, with even more pace and a much better length but Yuvraj had already set the table up for his side to achieve a crushing win. Even a crackling start from the RCB openers could not bridge the gap that an in-form Yuvraj and an able SRH middle order engineered on opening night.