Richard Levi hit a 35-ball 50 to guide the Mumbai Indians to an easy eight-wicket win over defending champions the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 opening match on Wednesday.
The South African, who smashed the fastest T20 century off 45 balls against New Zealand at Hamilton in February, cracked three sixes and six fours on his IPL debut as Mumbai surpassed Chennai’s total of 112 with 19 balls to spare.
Levi, 24, put his team on course for victory with a 69-run stand for the first wicket with Sachin Tendulkar (16) in the tournament opener, watched by a sizeable crowd in Chennai.
Levi was caught by Australian Doug Bollinger at long-off soon after completing his half-century with a six off West Indies seamer Dwayne Bravo.
Tendulkar retired after being struck on the fingers by a Bollinger delivery, but New Zealander James Franklin (25 not out) and Indian Ambati Rayudu (18 not out) steered their team home.
Mumbai’s win was set up by left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, pacemen Kieron Pollard of the West Indies and Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga, who bagged two wickets apiece to restrict Chennai to a modest total.
Suresh Raina top-scored for Chennai with a brisk 26-ball 36 on a difficult pitch.
The 76-match tournament, facing a test of its popularity, has nine teams playing each other on a home-and-away basis before the top four sides qualify for the play-offs. The final will be played on May 27.
The IPL, which began in 2008 as a high-octane mix of glamor, entertainment, rich purses for players and the excitement of slam-bang cricket, has had a difficult ride over the past four years.
It has been hit by infighting, problems with teams, criminal investigations and corruption allegations.
Fresh doubts were raised after a fall in viewership figures last year and a decline in sponsor interest, with the tournament coming soon after the Asia Cup in Bangladesh and India’s tour of Australia.
The IPL, which features world stars playing for rich franchise owners, is being investigated by government agencies for alleged fraud and foreign-exchange violations.
Its founder Lalit Modi, who was suspended from the league in 2010, is holed up in London as he faces Indian government and the Board of Control for Cricket in India charges of misappropriation of funds.
As viewership declined last year, when the event started just after India won the World Cup at home, some sponsors chose to turn their back on what was once considered a safe bet for advertisers.