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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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  • Derbyshire have brought in Stuart Law (who was cut loose by Lancashire) to boost their one-day firepower, but he won’t feature much in the County Championship. Charl Langeveldt will also be absent for at least three matches following his acquisition by Kolkatta for the IPL, but captain Chris Rogers is probably the best short-sighted colour-blind ginger cricketer in the world.
  • Gloucestershire, if anything, had an even worse season than Glamorgan, finishing rock bottom of the Championship in 2008. John Bracewell has a tough task on his hands to turn things around, but James Franklin’s arrival will help improve the standard of a bowling attack that struggled so much last year.
  • Northamptonshire struggled to win matches in 2008, so may be secretly hoping that Monty Panesar is dropped by England so that he can take key wickets for his county. The motley crew of Kolpaks and ‘Steelboks’ will otherwise have its work cut out to improve on last year’s showing.
  • Surrey find themselves back in Division Two once again, but the summer’s signings of Andre Nel – who will be available throughout the season – and Grant Elliot will boost their chances of promotion. Mark Ramprakash, of course, is still there, and now that he has passed the 100 centuries milestone, his county will be hoping that the part-time ballroom dancer returns to his form of 2006 and 2007.

A Division One preview will follow tomorrow.

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After the dramatic and historic Test series, South Africa and Australia move on to the Twenty20 series with an anticlimax somewhat inevitable.

The tourists appeared to suffer fatigue on their recent tour of England, fading quickly in the One-Day series and slumping to a 4-0 defeat back when Kevin Pietersen was still enjoying his honeymoon period. Mickey Arthur says that South Africa will be treating the limited-overs games as a separate tour, and there will certainly be no shortage of new faces. Herschelle Gibbs returns to the side following his stint in rehab, and there are set to be debuts in the first match for Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Vaughn van Jaarsveld. Johan Botha takes charge (somewhat surprisingly) of the team in Graeme Smith’s absence.

For Australia, Luke Ronchi comes in as Haddin is rested, the bowlers are shuffled, and David Warner (a Twenty20 specialist who has never played a first class game) is set to make his debut. The hosts will be keen to boost morale with some wins, and they have a strong record to defend, having never lost a Twenty20 international at home.

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Herschelle Gibbs has entered rehab. The troubled South African batsman, who was dropped from his national side following the fallout from an alcohol-related missed curfew the night before a Twenty20 match against Bangladesh, was entered into the rehabilitation scheme following his appearance in court yesterday on drink-driving charges.

Quite what this means for Gibbs’ future (including a scheduled spell with Glamorgan) is unclear, but given that he is approaching his 35th birthday, his international career seems to be at an end.  It’s a sad way for a flawed genius to leave the grand stage.

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England take on South Africa in the first ODI of the series at Headingley tomorrow with a slightly re-jigged side, possibly featuring Matt Prior opening with Ian Bell, and with Owais Shah at number three.

The hosts will also make changes to their bowling line-up, partially forced by injury to Ryan Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett. Called up in their stead is Tim Bresnan. Former captain Paul Collingwood is still suspended, but Samit Patel may miss out to Luke Wright and/or Graeme Swann in the lower-middle order.

For South Africa, JP Duminy, Johan Botha and the tremendously-named Vernon Philander are all likely to play. Albie Morkel is definitely injured, and brother Morne is a doubt. Graeme Smith‘s side will be overwhelming favourites (although Duncan Fletcher is optimistic about England’s chances), and the return of Herschelle Gibbs to the side for the One-Dayers is likely to put bums on seats, as they say.

UPDATE: Harmison’s only gone and unretired himself.

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Ireland, the Netherlands and (pending confirmation of Zimbabwe’s non-participation) Scotland have all qualified for next year’s World Twenty20, although the final of the qualifying tournament was rained off, so Ireland and the Netherlands had to share the trophy. So, who will Herschelle Gibbs be hitting for 36 in an over this time next year?

Ireland will obviously be hoping that the World Twenty20 will be an opportunity to replicate their heroics in last year’s Word Cup. Their success in qualifying was partially due to the astute bowling of Andre Botha, who took 8 -42 in the tournament as a whole, and also finished with the highest batting average of any ‘Irish’ player in the tournament.

The Netherlands’ star man is Ryan ten Doeschate, who continued his good Twenty20 form, and wasMan of the Match in the Semi-Final. Another Dutch success story was Peter Borren, who made a fair few runs as well as taking 5-76.

Scotland’s Dewald Nel took 9-60 across all matches, with an economy rate of 4.00, quite an achievement for a twenty20 bowler. Kyle Coetzer and Ryan Watson were the pick of the batsmen for the Scots, making 199 runs between them, with Watson’s highest score 54 and Coetzer making 48 not out.

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