Brett Lee is the hero

New South Wales Blues... the champion team in the Champions League.-PICS: K. RAMESH BABU

The Australian international’s all-round performance — he scored a brilliant 48 and then picked up two wickets — was the cornerstone of NSW Blues’ emphatic win over Trinidad & Tobago in the final. Over to V. V. Subrahmanyam.

New South Wales Blues demonstrated what really separates a champion from the rest — the ability to raise the bar under pressure. And Brett Lee came up with a special performance befitting the occasion with a dazzling innings and a fiery spell with the ball that spelt Trinidad & Tobago’s doom in the final of the inaugural Airtel Champions League T20 Championship at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad.

Lee’s all-round performance — he scored a brilliant 48 and then picked up two wickets — was clearly the cornerstone of NSW Blues’ emphatic win.

It was unfortunate that Trinidad & Tobago’s fairytale run in the tournament ended in agony. Skipper Daren Ganga attributed national pride as one of the significant factors for the team’s dream run in the Champions League. And there was something more at stake, a winner’s purse of $2.5 million (the prize money for the runner-up was $1.3 million). But strangely, Trinidad & Tobago’s performance in the final fell far below expectations.

No doubt, the team from the Caribbean was a rank outsider before the start of the Champions League. Yet Trinidad & Tobago surprised everyone with its magnificent showing in all departments of the game. The team clearly reminded the die-hard fans of the good old days of West Indian cricket — if not with its class then at least with its attitude. So remarkable was Trinidad & Tobago’s performance in the championship that it remained unbeaten till the final.

Even newcomers like openers Adrian Barath and William Perkins exhibited exhilarating stroke-play that caught the opponents off-guard. And the team’s star player, of course, was the towering Kieron Pollard.

In fact, one of the highlights of the Champions League was Pollard’s incredible onslaught against the NSW bowlers after Trinidad & Tobago appeared to be in a seemingly hopeless position in the Super Eight.

His match-winning knock (54 not out, 18 balls, 5x4, 5x6) should rank as one of the best innings in the T20 format. It was also a knock that brought Pollard instant stardom.

However, ironically, the Trinidad & Tobago batsmen, who had earned the reputation of being fearless in their approach as the event progressed, came a cropper in the final against high quality fast bowling. Lee, despite bowling a couple of wides, was at his hostile best. Though 32, the fast bowler showed amazing fitness levels. After cleaning up Williams Perkins with the second ball of the innings, Lee took a sensational reflex catch, off his own bowling, to send back Lendl Simmons. His efforts, in a way, were symbolic of the typical Australian brand of cricket.

Quite strangely, it was Trinidad & Tobago’s batting, which was one of the star attractions of the tournament for its fearlessness, which caved in while chasing a modest target of 160 in 20 overs. Perhaps, the likes of Perkins, Barath and Simmons got a little carried away by the occasion and the wonderful ambience under lights with the crowd lustily cheering for the Trinidadians. Even Pollard, who came to the crease with the team struggling at 68 for five in 10 overs, failed to realise how critical the situation was. It wasn’t mandatory for him to go only for sixes and fours.

No doubt, NSW Blues panicked a bit when Pollard struck three mighty sixes and a four. But then the 15th over proved that even a dazzling stroke-maker like Pollard should have shown some restraint and paced his innings better instead of going for big hits every ball. After hitting two huge sixes off off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, Pollard attempted another big one only to see Brett Lee take a well-judged catch in front of the ropes at long-on. The need of the hour was controlled aggression with accent on judicious stroke-selection, but Pollard had other intentions and paid the penalty for being too ambitious when the target was still achievable.

Brett Lee... the ’Player of the Final’ and the ’Player of the Series’.-

The dismissal triggered off celebrations in the NSW camp, for it knew the significance of Polllard’s wicket. Once Pollard was out of the picture, Stuart Clark mopped up the tail, claiming three wickets for 21 runs as Trinidad & Tobago were bundled out for 118 in 15.5 overs.

Blame it on the law of averages that seemed to have caught up with Trinidad & Tobago, which had five consecutive wins before the final, or the inability of the Caribbean outfit to rise to the occasion, but one cannot deny NSW Blues the credit for emerging on top in the end.

Earlier, when NSW Blues batted, the focus was on the big-hitting opening pair of David Warner and Phillip Hughes. However, it was the Trinidad & Tobago bowlers who took the honours with fast bowler Ravi Rampaul — easily the best on view — taking three wickets for 20 runs. Star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo chipped in with the wickets of Warner and captain Simon Katich.

Just when Trinidad & Tobago appeared to be in control with NSW Blues reeling at 83 for six in 11.2 overs, Lee, who was later named the ‘Player of the Final’ and the ‘Player of the Series’, turned things around for the Aussie outfit by playing some breathtaking strokes. Striking the ball cleanly, Lee scored 48 off just 31 balls with five sixes and a four to ensure NSW Blues a challenging total. His crucial 49-run stand for the seventh wicket with Steve Smith (33, 26 balls, 1x4, 1x6) proved to be decisive in the final analysis.

Though Trinidad & Tobago lost without putting up a big fight, it certainly deserved its place in the final. It played great cricket and the crowd simply loved the attitude and the body language of its players.

Dwayne Bravo & Daren Ganga... their unbeaten 93-run stand for the fourth wicket flattened Cape Cobras in the semifinals.-

It is to Trinidad & Tobago’s credit that it was never overawed by reputations, which was evident in the second semifinal where it outplayed Cape Cobras. With Jean Paul Duminy scoring a superbly paced 61 (40 balls, 4x4, 3x6) and Herschelle Gibbs cracking a brilliant 42 (27 balls, 5x4, 1x6), Cape Cobras set a target of 176 which seemed a tall order under lights because of the dew factor.

That Trinidad & Tobago achieved the target even without Pollard coming out to bat was a significant achievement. And this was largely possible because of the seasoned duo of Daren Ganga (44 not out, 31 balls, 1x4, 2x6) and Dwayne Bravo (58 not out, 34 balls, 4x4, 3x6) as their unbeaten 93-run stand flattened the team from South Africa.

As for NSW Blues, it might have suffered at the hands of Pollard in a Super Eight match, but as Katich revealed, it was a gentle reminder for his team to plug the chinks in its armour. And that it did so effectively against Victoria Bushrangers in the first semifinal in Delhi was proof that like any champion side, NSW Blues belonged to a different breed.

Batting first, NSW Blues scored 169 for seven in 20 overs thanks primarily to the free-stroking David Warner (48 off 25 balls, 7x4, 2x6) and Phillip Hughes (35 off 28 balls, 4x4, 1x6) who put on 62 runs for the first wicket in quick time.

Victoria was never in the hunt on a bowler-friendly wicket with Lee and off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, who shared the new ball, picking up two wickets each. It was terrific to see Moises Henriques, battered by Pollard in the previous match, come back strongly to pick up three wickets to enable NSW Blues halt its opponent at 90 for nine.

THE SCORES

Final: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Uppal, Hyderabad.

New South Wales Blues: D. Warner c D. Mohammad b Bravo 19, P. Hughes b Rampaul 3, S. Katich c Barath b Bravo 16, M. Henriques c S. Ganga b Pollard 4, B. Rohrer c S. Ganga b Mohammed 16, S. Smith c Simmons b S. Ganga 33, D. Smith b Rampaul 3, B. Lee c Perkins b Rampaul 48, N. Hauritz run out 10, S. Clark (not out) 0. Extras: (lb-5, w-2) 7. Total: (for 9 wkts, 20 overs) 159.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-32, 3-45, 4-47, 5-75, 6-83, 7-132, 8-159, 9-159.

Trinidad & Tobago bowling: S. Ganga 4-0-29-1, Rampaul 4-0-20-3, D. Bravo 3-0-27-2, Pollard 3-0-27-1, D. Mohammed 3-0-19-1, Simmons 2-0-23-0, Stewart 1-0-9-0.

Trinidad & Tobago: W. Perkins b Lee 0, A. Barath c D. Smith b S. Smith 14, L. Simmons c & b Lee 4, D. Ganga c Warner b S. Smith 19, D. Bravo b Bollinger 17, D. Ramdin c S. Smith b Clark 16, K. Pollard c Lee b Hauritz 26, S. Ganga c Henriques b Hauritz 5, N. Stewart c Henriques b Clark 4, D. Mohammed c Hughes b Clark 1, R. Rampaul (not out) 0. Extras: (lb-5, w-4, nb-3) 12. Total: (in 15.5 overs) 118.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-21, 3-21, 4-45, 5-68, 6-93, 7-107, 8-113, 9-118.

New South Wales Blues bowling: B. Lee 2-0-10-2, S. Smith 4-0-32-2, Bollinger 4-0-27-1, Clark 3.5-0-21-3, Hauritz 2-0-23-2.

Second Semifinal: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Uppal,

Hyderabad.

Cape Cobras 175 for 5 in 20 overs (H. H. Gibbs 42, J. P. Duminy 61 n.o., R. K. Kleinveldt 21) lost to Trinidad & Tobago 178 for 3 in 19.2 overs (W. K. D. Perkins 20, A. Barath 29, L. M. P. Simmons 20, D. Ganga 44 n.o., D. J. Bravo 58 n.o.)

First Semifinal: Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi.

New South Wales 169 for 7 in 20 overs (P. J. Hughes b McKay 35, D. A. Warner 48, D. L. R. Smith 20, S. M. Katich 26, C. J. McKay 3 for 27) beat Victoria 90 for 9 in 20 overs (M. S. Wade 23 n.o., M. C. Henriques 3-11).