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Part two of the Twenty20 Champions League Preview:

  • The Bangalore Royal Challengers have almost as many South Africans in their squad as the sides representing that country (even without the injured Kevin Pietersen). Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn all feature, whilst Rahul Dravid demonstrated in this year’s IPL that there’s a role for him in Twenty20 cricket which doesn’t simply involve driving down the run-rate.
  • Somerset‘s preparation has been dominated by Marcus Trescothick’s return to India, with some of the coverage seemingly willing him to suffer a breakdown. Assuming all is well with Trescothick, he and Justin Langer make an experience opening pair, with possible future ‘England’ wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter also capable of making quick runs. It’s difficult to assess how well the English sides will do, but at first glance it seems a mighty task for Somerset to win the tournament.
  • Sussex have a reasonably balanced side which was impressive during the English domestic Twenty20 Cup, with the batting of Michael Yardy and Ed Joyce and the bowling of James Kirtley particular highlights, with Luke Wright and to some extent Yasir Arafat capable both of adding runs and taking wickets at crucial moments. The side may struggle against some of the millionaire IPL teams, but perhaps greater experience of Twenty20 cricket will count in their favour.
  • Trinidad & Tobago are arguably considerably stronger than the side which is representing the West Indies at the moment, with Dwayne Bravo one of the stars of the (now presumably defunct) Stanford 20/20 competition alongside spinner Dave Mohammed, and with Windies wicketkeeper Dinesh Ramdin also in the side.
  • Wayamba have the experience of Mahela Jayawardene and the magic of Mendis. The latter will most likely bamboozle a number of players who are missing international experience, although he didn’t quite live up to his billing for Kolkatta in the IPL. The side look more like dark horses than front-runners, but, as I’ve already said, anything could happen over 20 overs.
  • Victoria might suffer for the loss of Dirk Nannes, but David Hussey and Brad Hodge have the class to make an impact with the bat. Bryce McGain has another chance to make an impact outside of Australia following his disappointing Test ‘career’.
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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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Imagine for a moment that you are Ashwell Prince.

You have an outstanding English summer, but then you pick up an injury.

Upon recovering from said injury, you find yourself excluded from the South African side as they have beaten Australia on their own patch and are surely about to become the top-ranked side in the world.

That doesn’t happen, but the captain does get injured and the other opening batsman has a shocker, so you get called up again and made captain.

Less than 24 hours later, the selectors change their minds and replace you with an evil penguin.

How do you feel? Not as bad as Mark Boucher.

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When Australia were going through their recent (relatively) dry patch, there was much talk of them having lost their ruthlessness. Mitchell Johnson certainly hasn’t lost his, as he demonstrated today – reducing South Africa to 0/2 (that’s two wickets for no runs, for backwards-scoring Aussie readers) and effectively taking another wicket by injuring Graeme Smith to the extent that the South African captain will be out for two or three weeks.

Johnson also drew blood from Jacques Kallis after hitting him on the jaw with what is often referred to as a ‘snorter’, or even a ‘ripsnorter’, of a ball.

Such has been Australia’s resurgence in this series, and their dominance of this Test so far, that questions may soon be raised about whether the Saffers, having wounded Australia in December, have once again flattered to deceive.

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South Africa and Australia certainly know how to get cricket fans on the edge of their seats. Just as the First Test was beginning to organise itself into a contest where victory for the hosts looked improbable if not impossible, things swung right back around, Jacques Kallis taking 3-22 (the 3 in question being Ponting, Hussey and North) and Ntini 3-52 as Australia’s second innings was brought to an end with just 207 added to their lead.

The tourists still enjoyed a lead of 454 at this point, but recent events Down Under (and before that, during England’s tour of India) have moved the goalposts, so to speak, for fourth-innings run chases. 276 from 98 overs tomorrow is now well within the realm of the possible.

If Ricky Ponting has a nagging feeling of deja vu, it’s most likely due to what happened in Perth last December, where South Africa overcame a first-innings deficit to claim victory with a ridiculous 414/4 in the fourth innings. Whilst the Saffers have a lot more left to do on the final day this time around, stranger things have happened (and many of them in the last twelve months).

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The series may be won and lost, many players involved may already have found their thoughts drifting towards next week’s IPL auction, but there is plenty to play for when Australia take on South Africa tomorrow in Perth. There’s pride, of course, and individuals will want to stake their claims for continued inclusion, but there’s another factor – if South Africa win, they will topple Australia from the top of the ODI world rankings.

We’ve been here before, of course, with the Test series – Australia managed a win in Syndey to hold onto top spot on that occasion. South Africa look likely to rest the likes of Steyn and Kallis, whilst Ntini has flown home following a family car accident, so the home side may be more motivated than the tourist. Whatever happens, the return series in South Africa is only a month away, so any relative cessation of hostilities will be brief.

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The brief interlude of the two Twenty20 matches between the Test series and the ODIs, combined with the absence of Graeme Smith, seems to have taken the wind out of South Africa’s sails a little. As well as the two defeats, stand-in captain Johan Botha also has the headache of slow over rates to deal with – he was fined 10% of his match fee on Tuesday for Saffer tardiness in the field.

Botha can at least console himself with the knowledge that AB deVilliers and Jacques Kallis have both recovered from the injuries which kept them out of the second Twenty20 match, and with the good form of JP Duminy, who’ll be looking to make some big scores following a disappointing ODI series in England.

Australia, meanwhile, are brimming with regained confidence in the shorter form, and will be looking to capitalise on their Twenty20 success as the series moves on to 50-over matches. The two teams haven’t actually met in an ODI since the last World Cup, and Australia’s last defeat to South Africa was the celebrated run-fest in Johannesburg, when even 434/4 from 50 overs wasn’t enough to secure victory for the Aussies.

The most interesting sub-plot in the ODI series is the question of who will open the batting for Australia alongside Shaun Marsh. Michael Clarke is a strong possibility, as is James Hopes, but it’s also possible that someone could come out of left field to make the slot their own.

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