Harbhajan Singh grinned broadly as Chris Gayle lay on the ground writhing in pain. The two had collided after the Mumbai Indians spinner had tried to field on his follow-through but only managed to bring the big Jamaican down.
Gayle went down clutching his left leg and Harbhajan, unaware of the seriousness of the injury, could only see the lighter side of the incident. But Gayle didn't. It only brought out the kind of aggressive streak he is renowned for.
Until then, the Royal Challengers Bangalore opener was quiet, almost submissive, as Mumbai Indians' surprise package Jaspreet Bumrah hogged the limelight. The rookie Gujarat pacer with an unorthodox action had removed the dangerous-looking rival skipper Virat Kohli and Mayank Agarwal to leave the hosts stuttering at 31-3 in 6.1 overs, after being sent in by Mumbai skipper Ricky Ponting.
It only seemed to get worse for RCB at the half-way mark after Gayle ran into Harbhajan. But Gayle held on. Up after quick treatment, the Jamaican was ready to pull his team out of trouble like he has done on many occasions.
What followed was a brutal assault that would have surprised even the staunchest Gayle fan. The left-hander, on 23 off 22 balls at that time, took off, smashing 69 off 36 balls. He finally ended with a buccaneering 92 (58b, 11x4, 5x6) as RCB again owed it to Gayle, finishing at 156/5 on a spicy wicket.
Such was the Gayle storm that swept the M. Chinnaswamy stadium, one was left wondering what would have happened had he not been injured. On Thursday, he stayed mostly rooted to the crease, taking advantage of his wide reach and ability to pick the length quickly.
Post the injury, Gayle first took on his West Indies team mate Keiron Pollard, launching a 95-metre six between two fours. While wickets fell regularly at the other end, Gayle, like a wounded solider, battled on.
The arrival of Arun Karthik — one of three surname namesakes in action on the night, the other two being Murali and Dinesh — helped Gayle. The opener stayed on, hobbling to the other end when there was a single to be had and coming down with brutal force when given width.
Gayle was severe on Munaf Patel's last two overs, hitting four fours and two sixes.
It was dream come true for fans when the batting greats, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar, opened the batting. They started well but both showed signs that their athletic best was behind them. Tendulkar was run out, failing to return to the crease in time and Ponting then pulled his back foot back too late to be stumped against spinner Murali Kartik. That set the tone for a close finish.