It was a game between the two Kings of the Indian Premier League and the fans were treated to regal fare with riveting acts of bravado from both sides.
Kumar (prince in Hindi), Praveen, got the contest off to an stunning start, grabbing two wickets with the first two balls of the game.
Murali Vijay (74) and Subramaniam Badrinath (66 not out) then combined in a princely display of batting.
MS Dhoni later took centre stage and, using his bat as a scimitar, sliced the Kings XI Punjab attack apart. The India captain scored 43 form 20 balls and the Chennai Super Kings had 188 for four on the board after losing two wickets without scoring.
At that stage, the visiting side must have thought they had enough runs, but they had not reckoned with the resolve of Paul Valthaty.
A virtual unknown amid Indian cricket’s demigods, one of the faceless foot soldiers with just one limited overs game for Mumbai in 2006, Valthaty played a majestic knock to guide the Kings XI to a six-wicket win with five balls to spare.
Valthaty, 27, made his intentions known in a blistering 61-run partnership for the opening wicket with his captain Adam Gilchrist (19), the runs coming off just 5.5 overs. He was unstoppable, reaching his 50 from 23 balls and reaching three-figures off 52, a moment that Valthaty later admitted: “I will never forget.”
The bhangras (a traditional Punjabi dance) had started in the stands by then and when Dinesh Karthik finished off the game with a mighty six, every fan was on their seat, applauding a very special innings.
Valthaty returned unbeaten with a 63-ball 120 and one look at the scoreboard would show the enormity of his effort; the next highest score for the King’s XI was Karthik’s 21.
“I think the way one individual stood up when it mattered and then the whole team backing him was fantastic,” Karthik said.
“Some of the shots he played, I think a lot of people would be proud of that … a lot of the legends would be proud of that I guess. It’s just the starting point for him. Good players keep doing it consistently and I think we will expect that as a team from him.
“Considering they were two down for zero, then they go on and get 188, you kind of feel a little upset about it. But I think the way Paul came out and batted changed things for us and we are very happy to do it against CSK.”
Valthaty is faceless even on the Kings XI’s official website; there is no photograph of him against him name, but the profile does warn, “watch out for his exploits at the IPL Season 4”. Few would have read that brief until now, but expect realms to be written about this man.
“Paul has shown some terrific talent in the trial games that we had,” Gilchrist said. “So we had faith that he was able to play well, but that was amazing. That’s one of the better IPL innings and better Twenty20 innings you have seen.
“I enjoyed standing around and watching Paul go. It was wonderful; nice to be in a partnership with him and get the team off to the right start. Yeah, I will be better for the run, but it was a terrific all round effort.”
Words of praise for Valthaty also came from the opposing captain Dhoni.
“Paul batted really well throughout the innings,” he said. “When you are chasing 180-190 runs, you have to keep scoring at a brisk pace and that’s what he did.
“He calculated it really well and went after the bowlers when it was really needed. You have to be at your best and that’s what he did. There was a challenge thrown at him and the intent was really good.
“He went on till the end of the game, which is very important – once you are in, don’t leave it to others.”
Valthaty was beaming as he heard those words at the post-match ceremony. He was the obvious man of the match and also received the orange cap for emerging as the tournament’s leading run scorer.
“I made it to the India Under 19 team in 2002, but then, unfortunately, I got stuck in my IE [Industrial Engineering],” said Valthaty, remembering his days of struggle. “After that, my career went through a lean phase. Now it is all coming together I guess.
“I believed in myself and the team management believed in me, and it all came perfect. I have prepared well for this IPL, starting two months earlier and I believe that paid off today.”
* Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi