Two teams, nervy, uncertain and extremely diffident, produced the kind of error-strewn cricket that generally makes for a close, if low-scoring, contest, until the brilliance of Dale Steyn emphatically settled the issue.
Sunrisers Hyderabad, making their debut in the Indian Premier League, and Pune Warriors India, who finished IPL V in ninth and last place, traded one feeble punch after another at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on Friday (March 5), neither side possessing the determination, it seemed, to finish off the other.
Enter Steyn, with the match still in the balance, 24 needed off 12 with Angelo Mathews, the Pune skipper, still out in the middle. Hyderabad had batted without conviction on their way to 126 for 6, well below par for the course on a slightly sluggish surface, and Pune replied in kind, making heavy weather of the chase.
At 103 for 7, a couple of beefy blows might still have settled it but Steyn scythed through the tail, picking up three wickets in four deliveries to send Pune crashing to 104 all out, Hyderabad marking their first appearance in the competition with an unlikely 22-run victory.
Pune will be wondering how they managed to make a meal of what ought to have been a straightforward chase. Agreed, there was no little quality in the Hyderabad bowling, Steyn being complemented superbly by Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, the leg-spinner who carved the middle out, and Thisara Perera, who followed up his cameo with the bat with the wickets of Robin Uthappa and Marlon Samuels, but there was enough firepower in the Pune ranks as well.
However, there was a singular lack of intent as Pune imploded sensationally once the opening stand of 36 between Uthappa and Manish Pandey was terminated. Pandey dawdled around for 30 deliveries for a painstaking 15, Yuvraj Singh was out-thought by Mishra, Abhishek Nayar succumbed to a mounting run rate, and Ross Taylor was cleaned up by an excellent slower delivery from Ashish Reddy as Pune lost their last six wickets for just 21 runs in 18 deliveries.
The Hyderabad innings itself never found any momentum, meandering along at one gear for the most part of their tepid, limp essay. Just for a brief while, when Perera lashed out by smashing 15 off Samuels's final over, they threatened to finish with a flourish, but Perera's pyrotechnics didn't last long enough to make a serious dent on the disciplined Pune bowling.
Hyderabad were undone by a combination of the accuracy of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashok Dinda, as well as the turn and purchase procured by Rahul Sharma, the legspinner, and Yuvraj, whose left-arm spin was used only sparingly by Mathews. Parthiv Patel and Akshath Reddy got Hyderabad off to a steady start, but no more, putting on 34 in 32 deliveries after Pune asked them to bat first in what was to turn out to be the highest partnership of the innings.
The middle order all got starts but simply couldn't kick on, Hyderabad suffering a massive blow when Kumar Sangakkara charged Rahul, missed the ball and saw his stumps rearranged. Coming in to the team on the back of a wonderful series against Bangladesh, Sangakkara had been expected to lend both style and substance to the batting. His dismissal also meant Hyderabad had lost their best player of spin, and their woes were exacerbated when Cameron White appeared completely at sea against the ball turning away from him.
Akshath had soldiered on without really dominating the proceedings, and like Patel and Sangakkara before him, he too fell in trying to force the pace with the innings having hit a roadblock and the team running out of overs. There was little heavy artillery in the lower order, though Hyderabad might have missed a trick or two by leaving Ashish until very late, with only 13 deliveries left in the innings.