It’s that time of the year again when Twenty20 returns to India long after the two-month extravaganza called the Indian Premier League. With a new sponsor in place and the presence of a team from Pakistan for the first time in the tournament’s history, the Karbonn Smart Champions League T20 promises to be a grand affair in terms of the quality of cricket provided.
Most of the usual suspects (read: IPL teams) have made a direct entry into the tournament, and the qualifying stages provide a golden opportunity for the others to make a mark in it too. The first of these qualifiers will be played out between New Zealand’s Otago Volts and Pakistan’s Faisalabad Wolves, and it promises to be a fairly even contest, though on paper, the balance is tilted slightly in favour of the former.
In terms of tournament experience, the Volts are making their second appearance since 2009. Also, they have a bevy of exciting players who have had exposure at the international level. Kiwi dasher Brendon McCullum is part of a team that also consists of his brother Nathan, former Test player Neil Broom, pacers Ian Butler and Neil Wagner, as well as Hamish Rutherford and Aaron Redmond. There are quite a few youngsters in the team as well – left-arm spinner Nicholas Beard is a proven performer, having been the joint highest wicket taker in the HRV Cup, while James Fuller is a promising young quick who bowled extremely well in the final against the Wellington Firebirds.
Skipper Derek de Boorder has been in good form with the bat as well as behind the stumps, and his astute leadership has helped the side in annexing their second HRV title. Runs have also flowed from the blade of their Dutch recruit Ryan ten Doeschate, and his skiddy medium pace will be an asset in Indian conditions; his stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders will be invaluable for his side.
In contrast, the Wolves will be making their debut after visa issues and strained relations between the governments of India and Pakistan nearly derailed their hopes. Few in the side have had international exposure, apart from skipper Misbah ul Haq, wily off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, rookie pacers Ehsan Adil and Asad Ali, and wicket-keeper Muhammad Salman. Very little is known of the other players, though none lack in talent. It will be up to these key names to lead the way and keep the others motivated.
The statistics also heavily favours the New Zealand side – they have won all of their last ten T20 encounters. The Wolves, on the other hand, suffered their only defeat against the Rawalpindi Rams via a Super Over, but apart from that, they played well enough to win their second title in the Faysal Bank Super Eight T20, a premier Twenty20 tournament in Pakistan. Misbah has been as steady as a rock in the batting department, while Adil has bowled at fiery pace and ended up bagging the most wickets in that competition.
It will be a test of nerves for both sides. Experience vs exuberance will be the key to making this contest a riveting one.
Traditionally, the pitch at the PCA Stadium in Mohali has favoured the spinners, so the Wolves may have an advantage due to the presence of Ajmal in their line-up. However, since it is a day game, the track may ease out as the game progresses, making it a batsman’s paradise. Therefore, the team that wins the toss tomorrow should look to make first use of the wicket.
As always, this is a tough one. Since the experienced Pakistan players have had outings at the ground before, the rub of the green might just go their way, though Otago will give them a run for their money. It’ll be interesting to see if the Wolves can devour the Volts – which I am inclined to agree with. Game on!