Heading into the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), there was a lot of excitement and curiosity about the tournament. While T20 cricket was still young at the time, audiences in India were not unfamiliar with the format. After all, India had won the first ICC World T20 just a few months earlier.
After a huge auction of players from across the globe, the action on the field would begin on 18 April 2008. The first match saw Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) host Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium with the two teams led by former India captains Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly respectively. The former won the toss and elected to field, a decision he would soon regret.
After a spectacular opening ceremony, at 8:00 PM IST, it was time for action. History was being made as pacer Praveen Kumar ran into bowl the first delivery in the tournament’s history. The batsman on strike was Ganguly. A leg-bye followed. Kumar bowled an economical first over, conceding one wide, two leg-byes and no runs off the bat.
The first over a quiet one and it was the second over which would provide a more significant indication of things to come. Brendon McCullum set the ball going. After playing a dot to start Zaheer Khan’s over, the New Zealand batsman scored the first runs off the bat off the second delivery. It was the first boundary too. Another four followed and off the fourth delivery, McCullum managed to hit the first six in the tournament’s history as well. McCullum had made his intentions known.
Zaheer getting the wicket of Ganguly did slow down the run-rate a little at the end of the Powerplay and the overs that came soon after. At the end of 10 overs, Kolkata were 87/1 with McCullum having made a fifty. Yet, Bangalore looked to be in the game. But it wouldn’t be the case for long.
McCullum took the RCB bowling to the cleaners in the second half of the innings. The future Blackcaps captain alone would score 100 runs in the last 10 overs. His unbeaten 158, which included 10 fours and 13 sixes, was the highest T20 score at the time.
The IPL couldn’t have wished for a better start. A record-breaking innings on day one.
You just need to look at the entire scorecard to understand how great an innings McCullum had played. The second-highest individual score in the match was just 20. In reply, RCB were bowled out for just 82 – just about more than half of what McCullum had scored.
In the KKR innings, the strike-rates of the other batsmen were: Ganguly - 83.33 (10 runs off 12 balls), Ricky Ponting – 100 (20 off 20), David Hussey – 100 (12 off 12), Mohammad Hafeez - 166.66 (5 off 3). In total, four other Knight Riders batsmen had faced 47 deliveries and scored exactly 47 runs. At the other end, McCullum had a strike rate of 216.43!
With the away team scoring 222, it meant that McCullum had scored 71.2% of the total. If you consider only runs from the bat, then the New Zealand batsman had scored 77.1% of the runs. There have been a lot of great IPL knocks since, but it’s tough to make a case for any innings that followed being better than McCullum’s in game number one.
What happened next?
Both teams failed to finish in the top four in IPL 2008. RCB, especially, had a tough time - finishing second from bottom and managing just four wins in the season. While they reached the final in the season after and have played three IPL finals in total, they are yet to win a title.
On the other hand, KKR – who finished sixth in 2008 – had a torrid time in 2009 with McCullum leading the team as they finished last. Since then though, they have improved leaps and bounds and won two titles in 2012 and 2014 under the captaincy of Gautam Gambhir.
McCullum was part of the KKR squad in 2012 when they first won the IPL. He featured in 12 matches that season but missed out on the final. He would later also play for the Chennai Super Kings, Gujarat Lions and Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. While he scored 2880 runs in the IPL, the first 158 were the most unforgettable.
Venkatesh Iyer is the only player other than McCullum to have scored a century for KKR. His 104 off 51 deliveries came against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium in 2023.