It has all the trappings of a classic confrontation - the irresistible force that Dale Steyn is, against the immovable object in the form of Chris Gayle.
The mouth-watering prospect of easily the best fast bowler in the world taking on the most destructive batsman in Twenty20 history forms the breathtaking backdrop against which Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore, both coming off wins in their opening games, square off on Sunday (April 7) in the Pepsi Indian Premier League.
IPL VI truly sprung to life on Thursday when Bangalore edged out Mumbai Indians, formidable and packed with a galaxy of international stars, by two runs in a fascinating contest at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Unsurprisingly, that win was fashioned by the brilliance of Gayle, towering head and shoulders above the rest of the glittering batting talent on view.
On Friday, at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Steyn fired Hyderabad to a remarkable 22-run win, defending only 126, against Pune Warriors India to mark a winning debut for the new franchise. Thisara Perera and Amit Mishra did the early running, making serious inroads into the Pune batting, but it was Steyn who walked away with the accolades after a mesmeric spell of pace bowling marked by genuine aggression and hostility.
For all the richness of talent from both camps, it's the Steyn vs Gayle showdown that is the most compelling, one capable of deciding which way the balance of power will shift.
Gayle and Steyn have been involved in a few titanic clashes in the IPL over the years. Indeed, the last time the two met in the IPL, a little under a year back at the same venue, Gayle threatened to run away with it as Bangalore chased a modest target and a place in the play-offs, until Steyn got rid of him, bowled, to set up a dramatic nine-run win for what was then the Deccan Chargers outfit. Both men have long memories. Steyn will reflect on that success to carry a sense of feel-good with him; Gayle will seek to use that as motivation to get his own back this time around.
Bangalore have tended to rely heavily on Gayle's unquestioned brilliance. Their fortunes have almost inexorably been dependent on how Gayle goes on a given day, but they are far from a one-man batting unit. In Tillakaratne Dilshan, who hasn't quite found his mojo with Bangalore, and Virat Kohli, their dynamic young captain, Bangalore have serious batting talent, though they will again be without AB de Villiers, doing domestic duty in South Africa, and Cheteshwar Pujara, still to recover completely from a broken finger.
Both last season and in the last game, Gayle has chosen to bide his time, playing himself in and seeing off the new ball while scoring at a modest rate, backing himself to explode in the second half of the innings. It's a tactic that has paid off more often than not, and, while Gayle has said that he will retain the element of surprise and occasionally blast away from the off, it is unlikely that he will attempt that against a Hyderabad new-ball attack of Steyn and Ishant Sharma.
Bangalore have the more well-rounded, all-round resources, while Hyderabad must address their batting concerns forthwith. With JP Duminy out for the rest of the season and Shikhar Dhawan, like Pujara nursing a broken finger, they look relatively light on the batting front. As such, much will depend on the ability of Kumar Sangakkara and Cameron White, something of a Twenty20 expert though not really prolific on the IPL stage, to combat and counter a versatile Bangalore bowling attack that will have derived tremendous confidence from the manner in which it restricted a formidable Mumbai batting line-up on an excellent Chinnaswamy strip.
The pitch at Uppal could also have a say in the outcome. Steyn hoped for the kind of track that was laid out against Pune - slow, with spongy bounce and discouraging flamboyant stroke-making - to make a repeat appearance, mainly to dry up Gayle's boundary-hitting and frustrate him into making a mistake. Then again, there is no gainsaying what Gayle will do, no matter what the nature of the surface, what the quality of the opposition bowling.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Akshath Reddy, Parthiv Patel (wk), Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Cameron White, DB Ravi Teja, Hanuma Vihari, Thisara Perera, Ashish Reddy, Amit Mishra, Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma, Sudeep Tyagi, Anand Rajan, Ankit Sharma, Biplab Samantray, Karan Sharma, Sachin Rana, T Sargunam, Veer Pratap Singh, Nathan McCullum, Quinton de Kock.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Moises Henriques, KB Arun Kartik (wk), Saurabh Tiwary, R Vinay Kumar, Murali Kartik, Jaidev Unadkat, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dan Christian, Zaheer Khan, Abhimanyu Mithun, Abhinav Mukund, Harshal Patel, KP Appanna, Karun Nair, Pankaj Singh, Prashanth Parameswaran, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sandeep Warrier, Sheldon Jackson, Sunny Sohal, Syed Mohammad, Vijay Zol, Andrew McDonald, Christopher Barnwell, Daniel Vettori, Ravi Rampaul.
Story first published on: Sunday, 07 April 2013 01:30 IST