The Best Champions League T20 Yet?
A Super Over, a 200-plus target achieved and an amazing chase that finished with two sixes in the last two balls - this year's Champion's League has been one of the most exciting to date.
In an ideal world, you would have wished for four teams from four different countries to make it to the semi-finals but with three IPL sides playing in this league, virtually at home (India), it was always a tough ask.
Northern Knights with the openers’ form, Perth Scorchers with Mitchell Marsh and Dolphins, South Africa’s T20 league winners and Lahore Lions with their incisive bowling attack were all favourites.
Even two non-IPL sides would have made the semi-finals really exciting. Instead, all three IPL teams have made it to the semi-finals and in style, Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab even winning all their league matches.
Hobart Hurricanes proved to be the surprise package of the tournament. Surprise finalists in Australia’s Big Bash, the Hurricanes rallied largely around Adrian Blizzard’s blitzkrieg knocks that IPL fans have already witnessed him playing for Mumbai Indians, opening with Sachin Tendulkar.
Champions League T20 2014 semi-finals
Hobart Hurricanes (Australia) v Kings XI Punjab (India)
Chennai Super Kings (India) v Kolkata Knight Riders (India)
Both matches played 2nd October, Hyderabad
The Kings XI Punjab, as we have written about in our league preview, remain our favourites and they have played like champions so far. There is a very good chance that the Champions League finals will be a repeat of the IPL final, allowing the Kings to possibly bury the ghosts of their IPL finals defeat.
KXIP is the perfect T20 team, with so much variety, you would wonder if it is a candy shop. Two brash openers in Virender Sehwag and Manan Vohra, both among the runs are followed by intimidating hitters in Glenn Maxwell and David Miller.
Thisara Perera is the ultimate finisher, a power-hitting hulk who doubles up as a seam bowler. Amidst these explosions are the calm, calculative heads of wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha and the ever-smiling captain, George Bailey, the man who is everyone’s toast at the moment.
Throw Akshar Patel into the mix, a lower-order bat already making waves with his spin and KXIP have enough reserves even for a bad day. KXIP’s only worry is Parvinder Awana's form, which swings like a pendulum with each match.
The Kolkata Knight Riders are on a 13-match winning streak. Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey showed against the Dolphins that even after losing two early wickets, one of them the skipper, KKR is perfectly capable of big scores.
Ryan ten Doeschate, Andre Russell and Suryakumar Yadav have all contributed to their wins, making it an all-round team. The real strength of KKR though is their bowling, so miserly with Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and India’s new find, chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, who has surprised everyone with his brilliant control of a difficult art.
Kallis and Cummins will give KKR fast bowling options. About the only worry KKR should have is the law of averages, which catches up with you at some point while Narine’s mind will not be without distractions, considering attention paid to his suspect bowling action.
CLT20 2014 Leading Run-Scorers
Kane Williamson (Northern Knights) - 244
Saad Nasim (Lahore Lions) - 207
Anton Devcich (Northern Knights) - 206
Jonathan Carter (Barbados Tridents) - 203
Umar Akmal (Lahore Lions) - 189
Aiden Blizzard (Hobart Hurricanes) - 188
Robin Uthappa (Kolkata Knight Riders) - 154
However, Gautam Gambhir will ensure his team is focussed and aggressive. Moreover, the sluggish pitch at Hyderabad should favour KKR more than any other team.
Chennai Super Kings have an advantage none of the other three semi-finalists have. Their dream team knows how to win the Champions League finals. CSK are usually brilliant in knock-out matches.
Suresh Raina is in the form of his life and MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja have been warmed up enough in their last league match. CSK’s openers Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith haven’t exactly fired on all cylinders like in the IPL but they are still among T20’s best opening combinations.
CSK is likely to retain John Hastings - that gives Dhoni a chance to strengthen his batting further, in spite of having three bowlers who can bat already in Dwayne Bravo, Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin.
CSK won against Perth Scorchers and the Dolphins but have lost to KKR, their IPL nemesis. This time around, they have to contend with KXIP in the semi-finals, a clash of calm captains or a clash of explosive batting line-ups. Dhoni is the undisputed leader in Indian conditions.
It would be a match to savour, although KXIP has had the better of CSK in the IPL.
Hobart Hurricanes, the team that has surprised everyone so far, will have desire, a factor that could motivate them against KKR or be their undoing. After losing their opening game against KXIP, Hurricanes have ripped through other teams, largely on the back of Blizzard’s knocks with support from Shoaib Malik and Ben Dunk.
CLT20 2014 Leading Wicket-Takers
Sunil Narine (Kolkata Knight Riders) - 11
Aizaz Cheema (Lahore Lions) - 11
Ashish Nehra (Chennai Super Kings) - 8
Ben Hilfenhaus (Hobart Hurricanes) - 8
Doug Bollinger (Hobart Hurricanes) - 8
Ish Sodhi (Northern Knights) - 8
Tim Southee (Northern Knights) - 8
Blizzard, who has a truckload of runs already in the tournament is key to Hobart’s semi-final fortunes but his attacking style will be heavily tested by KKR’s miserly bowling record. Hobart have also benefited from two experienced seamers in Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus, both of whom have played for Australia and have been amongst the wickets.
From a purely viewership perspective, it is not so bad a prospect to watch three IPL teams battling it out on Indian grounds for the Champions League. KXIP doesn’t have any silverware so far and Hobart Hurricanes are playing at this level for the first time. So, there is ample incentive for them to give it their all come Thursday.
From a cricket fan’s perspective, one would hope for a final between KXIP, the T20 team of the year so far and KKR, the virtually unbeatable team.
© Cricket World 2014