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Club cricket takes a new turn this week with the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League. Here’s a brief run-down of the sides involved:

  • The Cape Cobras, although without the injured Graeme Smith, will still have plenty of firepower with JP Duminy and Herschelle Gibbs the main threats. The lack of access to the large pool of overseas talent that the IPL teams will enjoy could be an issue, though, as could a lack of familiarity with subcontinental conditions from the non-internationals amongst the squad.
  • The Deccan Chargers boast a wealth of talent, with Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Chaminda Vaas and Scott Styris all in the squad alongside Indian players of the quality of Laxman and RP Singh. One of the IPL sides will be expected to win the competition, and the Chargers will certainly fancy their chances.
  • The Delhi Daredevils pulled off a coup in securing Dirk Nannes‘ services for the tournament, and some of his fellow Victorians may be cursing that decision on Friday when he could well open the bowling against the Australian side. Meanwhile, Gambhir, Sehwag and Dilshan could be an irresistable top order combination if they all hit form. The loss of Paul Collingwood to injury is unlikely to be felt too deeply (except by Collingwood himself, who has ‘a little niggle in his buttock’, no less).
  • The Eagles are on paper the weakest team in the competition, but the likes of Dillon du Preez and Ryan McLaren have overseas experience, and Twenty20 competitions have proved ripe for surprising results in the past, so they shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • New South Wales could upset the IPL hegemony, with the likes of Simon Katich and the famously big-hitting David Warner providing the runs, whilst Stuart Clark, Nathan Hauritz and Brett Lee will be a potent attack. If the problems which the Australian national side had in the World Twenty20 can be overcome, then NSW could be heading home with some silverware to go with their international players’ natty new white jackets.
  • Otago‘s chief asset, as ever, is the power-hitting of Brendon McCullum, but brother Nathan can also contribute. Dimitri Mascarenhas, available as neither Hampshire nor Rajasthan have qualified, has a strong track record in this format with both bat and ball, and is a strong addition to the squad.

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There has been a lot of talk recently about the rise of Twenty20 freelancers, with Andrew Symonds and Andrew Flintoff both being linked speculatively with the idea of wandering Twenty20 specialists playing in four or five different countries’ domestic Twenty20 competitions a year rather than playing for their country.

Kevin Pietersen is the latest player to be linked with this idea (some less kind commentators may suggest that he has already displayed what some would call a mercenary approach in his move from South Africa to England), with PCA chief executive Sean Morris predicting “the day of the freelance cricketer with players turning down England contracts” in favour of the money on offer as ‘marquee’ players in overseas leagues.

There has been an interesting development on this front in New Zealand, with six Black Caps players agreeing new contracts which effectively surrender some of their IPL income. Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor all agreed deals with New Zealand Cricket following a  delay whilst”scheduling conflicts between the … international programme and the IPL were clarified“. Unless some wide-ranging agreement is reached between national boards to compensate one another for the conflicts which arise between players’ commitments to overseas leagues and their national (and domestic) sides, this is a story which looks unlikely to go away anytime soon.

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Group E

  • The West Indies may have hammered Australia, but that victory owed a lot more to Chris Gayle’s power-hitting than it did to competent fielding from the team at large. Conceding as many runs as the side has recently probably won’t see them progress any further, but such is Gayle’s talent that few totals are unequivocally out of reach if the Windies bat second.

Group F

  • Ireland have exceeded many expectations by reaching this stage, and the lone Associate side remaining in the competition will need more than a little luck to progress any further. The match against Pakistan, though is bound to rekindle memories of 2007, and there’s still a chance of another upset or two being sprung.
  • New Zealand haven’t shown as much promise in their two group matches as I thought they might, but the quality of Vettori, McCullum, Oram and Taylor (if all are fit at the same time) will raise hopes of a Semi Final place.

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New Zealand beat India in their recent warm-up match for this tournament, which is bound to raise hopes that the Black Caps will pose a real challenge. Brendon McCullum is perhaps the archetypal Twenty20 batsman (as he showed in his dramatic introduction to the IPL last year), and Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram are both top-class bowlers in the short format, so anything is possible, but it would still be quite a shock if New Zealand were to take home the trophy.

Scotland’s preparations for the competition have been hit by John Blain’s walk-out, and the Saltires’ fortunes in general have been on a downward curve for the last four years. Gavin Hamilton (who has played Test cricket) is still around, but there seems little hope for Scotland to win a match in the tournament, especially given the group they find themselves in.

South Africa are now the top-ranked ODI team in the world, and have beaten Australia twice in their last two T20 Internationals, but their reputation as ‘chokers’ hasn’t yet been entirely shaken off. The recent emergence of the likes of JP Duminy and Morecambe’s own Wayne Parnell – along with the experience of players such as Kallis, Steyn and Smith – may prove enough for the Saffers to finally get their hands on an ICC trophy.

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After the Black Caps’ surprising 2-0 victory in the Twenty20 matches between these sides, India are facing claims that they can’t cope in Kiwi  conditions. Gambhir in particular hasn’t looked comfortable, and Tendulkar hasn’t yet played a game since arriving in New Zealand (partly due to the BCCI’s ongoing attitude to ICL-tarnished players), so the weight of top-order expectation (and much of the pressure from the bowlers) will fall mainly on the usually awesome Sehwag.

For the hosts, confidence is running high after their short-form success, and the bowling unit looks strong, but the Black Caps will be well aware that they are likely to be viewed by most observers as the underdogs. Any limited-overs team with Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori, of course, always has a good chance.

India have often struggled in New Zealand in the past, but the sheer quality of their side is difficult to deny. Things are set for an interesting series.

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Today’s Twenty20 international between Australia and New Zealand was won by the hosts by the margin of a single run. In that context, Adam Voges‘ incredible catch to dismiss Brendon McCullum is all the more remarkable. Enjoy it below.

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Australia, fresh from being deposed as the best ODI team in the world by South Africa, have the chance to take out their frustrations on New Zealand (as happened with the Test series back in November, which followed the Aussies’ defeat in India). The hosts have the opportunity to immediately regain top spot in the rankings with victory in the First ODI against the Black Caps, which will add further incentive for an immediate return to form.

It’s likely that Australia’s openers will be Marsh and Warner, with Michael Clarke batting at number four, but the batting order is more fluid (and less certain) than it has been for some time.

If New Zealand were feeling confident about Australia’s vulnerability, their warm-up defeat to the Prime Minister’s XI on Thursday will have left them in no doubt that they will be the clear underdogs. The rebuilding of the team under Andy Moles is still in its early stages, although there were some promising signs during the rain-affected series against the West Indies.

The tourists may have to make do without Brendon McCullum the wicketkeeper, although he is apparently fit enough to bat. Much, as ever, depends on Vettori.

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