The Indian Premier League has witnessed some of the best cricketing knocks ever played in the shortest format of the game. Finishing heroics with the bat have wracked nerves and turned matches on their head. In contrast, more sedate knocks under trying conditions have made for calculated assaults on the opposition throughout the history of the cash-rich league.
No matter what exuberance follows from the middle and lower orders, a team always relies first on its opening pair. A good opening pair, balanced with orthodox calm and calculated carnage, can flay opposition bowlers into submission and gain a psychological edge, set up a foundation for a victory within the first quarter of the match, and help the coming batters ease into their own innings. Quick loss of either or both openers may send jitters down the batting ranks, and teams can crumble from within despite themselves – case in point, the Kolkata Knight Riders in the ongoing 2022 edition.
Then, it is only fair that we do justice to some of the best opening pairs the glitzy tournament has witnessed.
We kick off on our list, arranged in no definite order, with one of the more fabled opening pairs to feature here. Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli combined for RCB in 2016 to provide several flying starts to the star-studded side. While the pair wasn’t persisted for long, as Gayle failed to hang onto his IPL consistency and eventually his RCB spot, what the duo did for RCB was to set a template for generations to follow. Gayle’s relaxed swagger-and-six approach and Kohli’s own mercurial hitting saw them blaze to a 147-run opening stand against KXIP in 2016. Incidentally, that was the year Kohli amassed over 900 runs and four hundreds, both standing records to this day, with one of those hundreds coming in a record 229-run partnership for the second wicket with AB de Villiers. Gayle and Kohli’s starts helped RCB reach the 2016 final, a final hurdle they failed to overcome. Their alliance can be traced back to 2012, when, batting for RCB, they put together an unbeaten 204-run stand against DD. It is no wonder that these two IPL greats find themselves featured on this list.
Next up in the pecking order, we have two batsmen who showcase the brand of the next generation of batters in India. KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal are two fast friends who combined to form one of the most feared opening pairs of the IPL in the 2019-2021 seasons for Punjab. Rahul’s career has progressed by leaps and bounds, with him even leading India on a couple occasions, and his batting might and ability to score off any shot in the book has earned him the tag of being Mr. 360 – a distinction once held by the South African wicketkeeping great, AB de Villiers. Mayank Agarwal, too had a couple of good seasons in the IPL, amassing over a thousand runs across two seasons, partnering Rahul in consistently providing Punjab with good starts. So much so that when the two faltered, the rest of Punjab’s batters would usually come a cropper, having had little or no experience of getting to bat all season. Rahul has been in the top three of the IPL’s top run-getters chart alongside Shikhar Dhawan for several seasons now, even after a switch over to Lucknow Super Giants this year, while Mayank has been providing good starts for PBKS as an opener, batting with more responsibility in his new role as skipper after Rahul’s exit.
Now we look at two left-handed batting greats not only in the IPL but also in international cricket. Shikhar Dhawan and David Warner have been two of the most feared white-ball openers for their respective countries and teams over the last decade. When they opened together for SRH, they won them their maiden title in 2016, bettering the Kohli-Gayle-ABD trio in the final against RCB. Virat and Gayle came together in an able left hand-right hand combination, while Rahul and Mayank were both right-handed. Warner remains the highest overseas run-scorer in the history of the IPL. Although he has had a few lean years recently, there seems to be no stopping the Delhi Dasher, Dhawan, as he regularly keeps up over six hundred runs per season. Warner’s dip in form saw his side sack him as captain, and eventually, he got drafted into the Delhi side for the 2022 season. He has had a fair season so far for the side alongside young gun Prithvi Shaw, while Shikhar has had a below-par season given his standards – he still stands fifth on the run-getters list, scoring at an average of over 42 with a high score of 88*. Warner himself is a spot below Dhawan, with an average over 53 and having scored four half-centuries to Dhawan’s three. Warner now finds himself with Prithvi Shaw, a partner Dhawan spent 3 seasons with. Shaw might be one of the luckiest youngsters, as he has had a chance to learn from both David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan.
When it comes to experience, no pair could prove to be a match to the iconic duo of Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis. Both the batsmen were monumental in CSK’s 2018 campaign, where the Dhoni-led franchise asserted their bragging rights to the title. Watson was a superstar, as he notched up a breath-taking century in the finals against Kane Williamson’s SRH in the finals. The factor which made them a perfect duo was their ability to read the game. If Watson struggled, Faf took the onus of getting runs, and if Faf was having a bad day, Watson burst off into the scene. The duo didn’t manage to stay afloat for a long time, as Shane Watson was approaching the twilight of his career, but in the time they played, they created chaos, utter chaos.
A top-five list doesn’t justify the plethora of opening talent unearthed at the IPL. Be it the one-off success stories of Venkatesh Iyer or Sunil Narine for KKR, the recent exploits of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway for CSK, or the isolated efforts of Ishan Kishan for MI, Devdutt Padikkal for RCB, Faf du Plessis for RCB, and Jos Buttler for RR, over the years, the tournament has witnessed some of the most prolific white-ball openers pass through it.
Even as we draw this list to an end, we top it off with KKR’s golden opening pair in skipper Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa during the 2014 season. Uthappa won the Orange Cap for the year, an effort which saw him getting drafted back into the Indian team on tour to Zimbabwe, where he eventually failed to impress. The IPL, however, was his roost to rule, as he stroked 660 record runs in Gambhir’s able company as they hurried KKR to their second title triumph in two years. They haven’t won a trophy since, as they have kept looking for someone to replicate the keeper-batsman’s prolific stroke-making at the top of the order. Gambhir tried to plug the holes in a sinking ship, leaving behind openers Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine for the side when he retired from the game, but their efforts turned out to be far from consistent, and KKR have been left searching for answers for close to half a decade.