The unlikely rebirth of Jacques Kallis, the unflappable Test cricket metronome, as a major force in Twenty20 was given credence last night as his brutal hitting guided the Bangalore Royal Challengers to an eight-wicket victory. Kallis, who was dropped from South Africa's squad for the first World Twenty20 in 2007 on the presumption he would score too slowly for the format, clattered 89 in 55 balls to seal the win over Kings XI Punjab.
With the early momentum provided by Robin Uthappa's whirlwind half-century, the Challengers eventually eased to their 204-run victory target with more than an over to spare. Kings XI had looked well-placed to break their duck at the halfway mark. Ravi Bopara staked an early claim for a place in England's final World Twenty20 squad with a half-century. He feasted on a combination of a featherbed pitch and a benign Challengers attack.
His 77 included nine fours and two sixes, the second of which brought a jig of delight from the Kings XI co-owner, Preity Zinta, in the stands. In the process, the Essex strokemaker also reinforced the growing belief than English players can be worthy of a place in the tournament following on from Owais Shah's lead for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Such a notion had previously been dismissed as outlandish for anyone with a celebrity less than that of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. English lots have generally attracted little interest at player auctions, yet those that have made the cut are starting to prove their worth.
What benefit - other than fiscal - they get from being there has been the subject of debate. Eoin Morgan, who was in opposition to Bopara in Bangalore yesterday, suffered criticism in some quarters for opting to miss the start of the county season in order to play in this tournament. The naysayers suggested it will hinder his chances of playing in England's Test side. However, what they seem to have overlooked is that there is a major international competition at the end of next month, the World Twenty20, and Morgan, Shah and Bopara will be better off for having played in India.
Dubai cricket fans know Morgan's capabilities well, given his exploits in the two-match series against Pakistan here recently. However, his side did not even need him yesterday, as Kallis and Uthappa hogged the limelight. Uthappa is, like Bopara, another player trying his hardest to relight the fuse on his stalled international career. He went the right way about it at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, by brutalising a Punjab attack led by two national team pacemen, Irfan Pathan and Santhakumaran Sreesanth, as well as the young leg-spinner Piyush Chawla.
As is typical of Uthappa, he did not solely employ brute force, and his dextrous shot-making was best typified by a neat late cut for four to counter Chawla. When Uthappa's 22-ball stay was ended with him on 51, it was left to Kallis to take the Bangalore franchise home to their first win of the new campaign. Anil Kumble, the Royal Challengers captain, was thrilled his team chased down a target in excess of 200 runs for the first time.
But he said the bowlers had much room for improvement. "I think we gave away 20-25 runs too many," he said. "At the toss I felt there was a bit of moisture in the wicket and with the early start a target of 175-180 would have been a par score. I think we were a bit unlucky in the first six overs and a few edges went over the fielders, but we need to tighten our bowling and that's something we need to work on," he added.
This was only the Royal Challengers' second IPL win at home, their previous victory coming in 2008 - the tournament's first year - while the event was staged in South Africa the following year. @Email:email@example.com