Jacques Kallis, the man just keeps defying critics and belief time and again. Kallis, with questions yet again raised over his capabilities in the shortest format of the sport, stepped up like only he can, with a masterful knock to help the Kolkata Knight Riders to a comfortable victory over the defending champs the Mumbai Indians in the opening match of IPL 7.
A green-tinged wicket in Abu Dhabi welcomed the two teams, with KKR, after winning the toss and choosing to bat first, posting a sizeable 163 for five in their 20 overs, thanks to a wonderful half-century from Kallis (72) and an equally valuable knock from Manish Pandey (64).
Mumbai Indians would have backed themselves to get to the total, considering their batting lineup, with Michael Hussey and Corey Anderson joining an already formidable unit; however, the KKR bowling, with Morne Morkel, R Vinay Kumar and Piyush Chawla, joining the likes of Sunil Narine, Kallis and Shakib Al Hasan, is a daunting one too, and the latter won out in the end, easily enough, restricting MI to just 122 for seven.
All eyes were on Michael Hussey, with anticipation building as everyone expected another master class from the Aussie stalwart. Time and again, Hussey has set the game up perfectly for CSK in the IPL, but on his debut as a Mumbai Indian, the left-hander (3, 13b), replacing the retired Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the innings, could not quite hit those stratospheric heights - struggling to lay bat on ball to the impressive Hit-the-gloves-of-the-wicketkeeper-with-a-massive-thud Morkel, before being bamboozled by the ever-impressive Sunil Narine in the fifth over.
Aditya Tare was clearly given the job of tonking the bowlers at every given opportunity, and welcomed Narine to IPL 7 with a massive six. However, the right-hander could not continue his assault and fell to Shakib Al Hasan in the eighth over after a 22-ball 24 (2x4, 1x6).
That put the onus on Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma to stitch together a partnership, with MI needing a daunting 123 runs from the final 12 overs. The India internationals steadied the ship with a 61-run partnership from 45 balls, but with the run rate only climbing, the target was still at a very improbable to 69 from the final five overs.
Rohit (27, 20b, 1x6) smacked Morne Morkel for a big six in the opening ball of the 16th over, but knowing the need for regular boundaries, another attempt at a second consecutive six, led to his demise, with Kallis (3-0-23-0) completing a smart catch in the deep.
Kieron Pollard felt Morkel's (4-0-16-1) wrath with a couple of stinging short deliveries, with Narine sending Rayudu (48, 40b, 4x4) packing in the next over as the noose was tightened, with MI praying for a miracle from their big willow wielders Pollard and Corey Anderson.
But with Narine (four for 24) and the entire KKR bowling unit in the we-shall-not-concede-boundaries zone, there was little even the likes of Pollard and Anderson could do as Kolkata eased home to a 41-run victory, their biggest and only the third in 13 meetings against Mumbai.
The first innings was all about "old man, but still as good as ever" Kallis and the explosive Manish Pandey, with the duo putting on a brilliant partnership for the second wicket after the early dismissal of the KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir, who, like Hussey, struggled in the middle.
Gambhir (0, 8b) chose to bat first, but he would have been wondering just why after just 10 balls, falling prey to that wicket-hitting machine Lasith Malinga.
However, with the calm head of Kallis and the boundary-hitting potential of Pandey at the crease, KKR went about setting up a big score meticulously, with the Mumbai Indians unable to break through either of the two right-handers.
Pandey was the aggressor in the first half of the innings, finding the boundaries every now and then, while Kallis, 38-years-young, was his usual don't-worry-about-me-I-will-just-jog-along-merrily self.
The Mumbai Indians would have felt they were on course to restricting KKR to a total of around 140 with the team from Kolkata struggling at 90 for one after 14 overs, but a couple of smashes from Kallis' blade in the 15th changes the course of the innings entirely.
Malinga had just dropped an absolute dolly off Kallis in the previous over, and the big right-hander made MI pay for that mistake, carting Pragyan Ojha for a couple of sixes and a four, before consistently finding the big runs in the next few overs.
Kallis jumped from a lethargic 33 from 32 deliveries to an outstanding 72 from 46 (5x4, 3x6), before Malinga (four for 23) picked up his wicket.
Pandey (64, 53b, 6x4, 2x6), at the other end, could not quite catch fire and fell to Malinga in the 17th over - no prizes for guessing the manner of the dismissal - two overs before Kallis, but his alliance with the South African legend worth 131 in 92 deliveries was quite priceless.
Robin Uthappa could not provide the final over fireworks, with Suryakumar Yadav, instead, finding a few delightfully innovative boundaries to push that score well beyond 160, a total which proved to be more than enough.