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Four months after Australia’s poor showing at the World Twenty20, a number of the players involved in the Aussie set-up have managed to claim an international Twenty20 trophy by other means, with Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Nathan Hauritz, Philip Hughes, David Warner and Simon Katich all involved in New South Wales’ victory over Trinidad & Tobago in the Twenty20 Champions League final.

Lee in particular showed his class in the final, hitting 48 from 31 balls and then taking 2-10, whilst Clark (3-21) and Hauritz (2-23, including the wicket of Kieron Pollard) also made telling contributions with the ball.

Now that the focus shifts to Australia’s ODI series against India, the main concern for those involved in both the Australian and NSWelsh sides is the lack of time to rest before the first ODI on Sunday. Two-thirds of the Australian touring party has been involved in the Champions League, and if similar situations continue to arise, then the sort of club vs country row that often fills column inches in football could be on its way to cricket soon.

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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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The second season of the IPL (or the first season of the SAPL, if you prefer) gets underway this weekend, so here’s the lowdown on the teams taking part:

Bangalore Royal Challengers
Bangalore’s main pre-season activity was the purchase of Kevin Pietersen and KP will join a host of his fellow countrymen in Kallis, Steyn and Boucher. Last year the Royal Challengers finished seventh of eight teams, with only 4 wins, and Rahul Dravid didn’t look much of a Twenty20 batsman last time out, so it is to be hoped that the signing of Pietersen and the availability of Nathan Bracken following injury last year will improve things.

Zaheer Khan has departed to the Mumbai Indians in a swap deal for Robin Uthappa, but Steyn and Bracken – when available – should be enough to keep the bowling up to standard. Nevertheless, the Royal Challengers are unlikely to be amongst the favourites for the competition this year (although as Rajasthan showed last year, the odds may not be a fair indicator of each team’s relative chances).

Chennai Super Kings
Initial indications are that Chennai look strong again this year. Matthew Hayden’s retirement from international cricket means he is available for the whole competition, and new signing Andrew Flintoff, if fit, could potentially be the archetypal IPL all-rounder. In addition, MS Dhoni remains a potent threat.

Last season, the Super Kings lost out to Rajasthan in the final on the last ball, and the squad looks good enough to go one better this time around if fortune (and fitness) favours the Super Kings.

Delhi Daredevils
Dehli have been hit by the loss of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Asif, but have added Australian master blaster David Warner and English duo Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah. Perhaps most important of their new additions is ‘Dirty’ Dirk Nannes, a Twenty20 specialist who has been part of successful Middlesex and Victoria teams in the shortest form of the game.

Dehli also have the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Vettori, de Villiers and McGrath at their disposal, so if the Daredevils can get the make-up of their side right, they have a strong chance of success. The fact that most of their overseas stars will be available throughout may lead to the odd selection problem, but they will be problems of the sort that other franchises would like to have.

Deccan Chargers
Last year’s wooden-spoon winners in dead last place, the Chargers suffered heavily in the batting department as Shahid Afridi, Scott Styris and even Herschelle Gibbs failed to live up to expectations. he has been recalled, and they have a preponderance of all-rounders having also added Dwayne Smith and Ryan Harris.

RP Singh is also under pressure after a disappointing season last year, as is Chaminda Vaas, and Fidel Edwards’s arrival should improve the effectiveness of the bowling unit. In all, there is some hope for a better performance this year, although it would be hard for the Chargers to do any worse.

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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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David Warner, fresh from his Twenty20 exploits, has been called into the One-Day side for Sunday’s match, following the failure of Michael Clarke to recover from injury.

Warner was briefly discarded by Australia’s selectors when it appeared that Clarke had recovered, but now the young NSWelshman may be given the opportunity to open the batting for the Aussies with Shaun Marsh, a position which is yet to be permanently filled since it was occupied by Matthew Hayden. If Warner makes a decent score, then his name could be added to the list of possible contenders to replace Hayden in the long term.

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Just in case anyone in Australia is feeling upset about Matthew Hayden‘s announcement that he’s going to retire, then here’s something to cheer you up: David Warner going ballistic in the Twenty20 the other day. Enjoy.

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A few days ago, I had no clue who David Warner was. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that most non-Australians would have been in a similar position. In fact, many in Australia appear to have been unaware of the young gun: Cricinfo reported that “the scoreboard operators didn’t have a photo of him when the teams were displayed“.

Today, (or last night for antipodean readers), he announced himself on the international stage with a thumping 89 off 43 balls (the joint-fifth highest T20 international score ever) during Australia’s 52-run victory over South Africa. That type of form is likely to see Warner added to Australia’s ODI squad, and comparisons with Adam Gilchrist‘s swashbuckling style are already becoming very tempting.

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