Lone ranger

Misbah-ul-Haq single-handedly took Faisalabad Wolves to its only victory.-AKHILESH KUMAR

In three matches, Misbah-ul-Haq alone scored more runs (195) than all his team-mates put together (190) and it exposed the lack of depth in one of the elite sides from Pakistan, writes Y. B. Sarangi.

Misbah-ul-Haq hit the nail on the head when he said the lack of international exposure was affecting the growth of up-and-coming cricketers in Pakistan. The Faisalabad Wolves’ performance in the Champions League T20 qualifiers was an indication of this. Misbah was the Man Friday for the team in all three matches and single-handedly took Wolves to its only victory, by a margin of 10 runs, against Kandurata Maroons. His unbeaten 93, containing six hits to the fence and five over it, in the Wolves’ aggregate of 146 gave his bowlers some runs to defend.

Interestingly, in three matches, Misbah alone scored more runs (195) than all his team-mates put together (190) and it exposed the lack of depth in one of the elite sides from Pakistan.

In the bowling department too, one could witness a lack of experience. The Wolves bowlers were competent, but did not have the expertise to handle pressure — a primary requirement to achieve success against top international outfits.

Misbah guided his bowlers well to withstand pressure against the Lankan team, studded with several international players. He hoped that this win would help build the confidence of some Wolves players.

“The younger guys can get the belief that if we work hard a little bit more and put things in the right place, we can really compete at this level. That was really a learning curve for them and I think they have learnt a lot from here,” said Misbah-ul-Haq with a note of optimism.

Leading from the front

Perhaps Brendon McCullum, a batsman with all kinds of strokes in his repertoire, has not done justice to his talent. At least, his career stats suggest so.

Leading Otago Volts in the Champions League T20 qualifiers, McCullum played a couple of commanding knocks to guide his team to the next stage with an all-win record.

In the last qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad, McCullum marshalled his bowlers brilliantly to restrict the opponent to 143. He then led from the front with an explosive unbeaten 67 to see his team home with five wickets to spare.

In his authoritative innings, McCullum, the original Indian Premier League (IPL) superhero who had scored a blazing 158 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first ever match of the event in 2008, unfailingly picked the balls to attack. It did not matter who the bowler was. The only thing that mattered was whether the delivery deserved to be dispatched to the boundary.

McCullum, who blasted five fours and an equal number of sixes in his 39-ball innings, forged vital partnerships of 53 runs with Hamish Rutherford for the second wicket and 51 runs with Jimmy Neesham for the fourth wicket as Volts reached the winning total quite comfortably.

“Obviously Baz (Brendon) showed what sort of champion he is. To my mind, he is the best captain in world cricket at the moment. He had limited bowling resources and I thought tactically, he did it very, very well,” said Volts coach Vaughan Johnson.

It was double delight for the McCullum brothers as Nathan, with his off-spin, had captured the crucial wickets of Shikhar Dhawan and Parthiv Patel to give Volts an early advantage.

Missing the fun

The zing was missing — be it the loud cheers from the stands or the shaking of legs by cheer-leaders. A Twenty20 match surrounded by barren stands of the PCA Stadium in Mohali was a let down even though it was only the qualifying stage of the Champions League.

Along the ropes, the four machines, puffing white smoke on every boundary scored, were no replacement for the bubbly girls who used to be an integral part of a T20 showbiz.

In the aftermath of the spot-fixing episode in the IPL, everything seemed to have vanished into thin air!

However, considering that the India A-West Indies A one-dayers were drawing a decent number of spectators at other centres, perhaps spot-fixing may not entirely be the reason for the lukewarm response of the crowd for the CLT20 qualifiers.

Unfamiliar teams such as Otago Volts, Kandurata Maroons and Faisalabad Wolves may be one of the turn-offs. The only side to which the spectators could connect with was the Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Still, the side was neither from Punjab nor from any neighbouring State. The only drive could be watching an in-form Shikhar Dhawan in action. But that was too weak a motivation!

For the discernible fans, the main competition was more important. So, it hardly mattered if Volts banked on its captain Brendon McCullum’s unbeaten 63 to overhaul a total of 139 and defeat Wolves by eight wickets in the opening qualifier of the fifth CLT20 and start its campaign with a bang.

Formidable pair

It was a partnership that stood out and did the trick for Sunrisers Hyderabad. The pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Parthiv Patel displayed a determined performance and built a massive 121-run stand for the opening wicket to guide SRH to a comprehensive eight-wicket win over the formidable Kandurata Maroons, which was studded with several accomplished Sri Lankan stars.

After limiting Maroons to 168, Dhawan (71 off 53 balls) and Parthiv (52 off 42) comprehended the conditions well and unleashed their shots after settling down in the middle.

“During the break, we thought they got 10-12 more than they should have. But I thought 170 was a par score on this wicket and that if we got a good start, we could always win this game because we have got the firepower down the order. We saw how Thisara (Perera) batted and we had Darren Sammy to go as well. We wanted to ensure we got 40-45 in the first six overs and then build it up from there,” said Parthiv.

In fact, the openers stuck to the plan as they gathered the first 50 runs in 5.3 overs. It made the journey easier.

They complemented each other well and ensured that on a good batting track their team did not pay the price for any rush of blood. The responsible display of the experienced duo helped SRH sail smoothly to achieve the competitive target.

“Sometimes he (Dhawan) gets going and sometimes I get going. It happened during the IPL also. When he gets going, I look for singles and when I am going well, Shikhar tries to get singles,” said Parthiv about the pair’s recipe of success.

Impact player

The absence of Ryan ten Doeschate was a cause of concern for Otago Volts, the team from New Zealand in the CLT20. Even as the side won its first game against Faisalabad Wolves convincingly, it knew how crucial ten Doeschate was to its game plan. Hectic parleys behind the scene resulted in the Dutch star arriving in time for the second game against Kandurata Maroons.

Interestingly, ten Doeschate gave a superb all-round performance to help Volts record a six-wicket win over Maroons and seal a berth in the main round. First, he scalped two important Maroons middle-order batsmen at the expense of nine runs in his two overs and then, coming in at 45 for two in the eighth over, slammed five sixes and two fours for a match-winning 32-ball 64. Volts reached the target of 155 with two overs to spare.

“Definitely, it (the effort to get ten Doeschate from county cricket) has been going on for two or three months. The phone bill back to the UK must be thousands and thousands. But yeah, it was well worth it. You can see the class that he is out there tonight, both with ball and bat. Even if we had not got him tonight, we would probably have waited to hopefully qualify and use him in the main tournament,” said Volts coach Vaughan Johnson, acknowledging the massive effort put up by the team to get the impact player.

Professionalism

Shikhar Dhawan is the hottest topic in cricketing circles these days. After his dream Test debut against Australia in Mohali earlier this year, the Delhi player has grown as a batsman. Everybody is hailing his mature innings, fluent strokeplay and commanding batsmanship.

Dhawan played another captain’s knock of 59 runs from 50 balls, his second consecutive half-century, and it propelled Sunrisers Hyderabad to a seven-wicket victory over Faisalabad Wolves which had put up only 127 runs on the board. The result got SRH a slot in the next round of the CLT20.

SRH coach Tom Moody, despite his limited association with Dhawan, was extremely pleased with the professionalism of the skipper. “I think maturity and work ethic have sort of come in line. He is very clear on what he wants to achieve, he is an extremely hard worker. He is very thorough in his preparation. When you have someone who has those professional standards, along with a lot of natural ability, they are destined to perform consistently at the high level.

“The positive thing about Shikhar is that whether he is captaining or whether he is batting, he constantly wants to improve. He is always asking questions, he is always wanting to develop his game and himself.

So, from a coaching point of view, it is a pleasure to work with people who have that open mind and are prepared to grow,” noted Moody.