It was perhaps fitting that on a day Brendon McCullum set the ball rolling in the Indian Premier League (IPL) with a breathtaking ton opening the innings 14 years ago, another overseas opener lit up the Brabourne Stadium on Monday evening with an audacious century.
Jos Buttler’s 61-ball 103 (9×4, 5×6), his second century of the season, powered Rajasthan Royals (RR) to 217/5 against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), a total most bowlers would be happy to defend. Except on a flat pitch with a short boundary on one side, RR had their task cut out. Yuzvendra Chahal’s 5/40, capped off with a hat-trick, though ensured the Royals pulled off a seven-run win in the end with KKR 210 all out with two balls left.
Aaron Finch (58, 28b) and captain Shreyas Iyer (85, 51b) set the tone for KKR’s chase with a 107-run partnership in 53 balls for the second wicket. They took on RR’s best on either side of the 57-run powerplay, collecting 14 and 17 off R Ashwin and Chahal’s opening overs respectively. Finch was more aggressive before being caught at third man in the ninth over. Iyer switched gears after bringing up his half-century in 32 balls. Despite losing Nitish Rana and Andre Russell—bowled by an Ashwin beauty for a golden duck—Iyer kept finding the boundary to stay with the asking rate.
The pivotal moment came in the 17th over when, with KKR needing 40 with six wickets in hand, Chahal had Venkatesh Iyer stumped off the first ball, Iyer leg-before off the fourth, Shivam Mavi caught the next ball and Pat Cummins caught behind to finish with a hat-trick, and four wickets in one over. Umesh Yadav’s sixes kept KKR in it till the last over when 11 were needed, but Obed McCoy castled him to ensure Buttler ended the night smiling.
Strange as it may sound, Buttler struggled to find his timing for the first couple of overs. Once he did, he took off. Buttler attacked Yadav with a straight four and then a monstrous hit over midwicket. Both were length balls, but it seldom matters when Buttler is in the mood. Ditto when he rocked back and hoicked Varun Chakaravarthy straight.
It wasn’t all stand and smack though; Buttler also ran four with Devdutt Padikkal. The openers’ 50-run stand had the former score 36 and the latter eight. Such was Buttler’s assault that each over from the third, until the 8th by Sunil Narine, went for more than nine. Narine was the standout bowler, in keeping Buttler quiet and also cleaning up Padikkal. Sanju Samson (38, 19b) kept the momentum going.
So did Buttler—whipping Cummins past deep square leg or digging out a wide yorker for boundaries. For his range of shots, Buttler got a juicy full toss to bring up his century with six in the 17th over. Two balls later when he was dismissed, RR were 183/3, aiming for 225. They stuttered a bit before Shimron Hetmyer’s two sixes and a four in an 18-run last over.