With an enormous US$2.5 Million winner’s cheque as the main prize, the Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) tournament is easily the biggest provincial cricket competition in the world, and after two aborted attempts, it will finally get under way in the Indian call-centre capital of the world, Bangalore, this Thursday night.
Originally touted as the logical companion to the Indian Premier League when launched in June 2008, the CLT20 endured an organisational-forced delay to its initial September 2008 schedule.
It then had to be postponed a second time in December 2008 when terrorist attacks in Mumbai forced teams already in transit to do a quick u-turn.
The CLT20 will be run over 16 days, with games played in Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad, and culminate with the Final for the over-sized cheque on Friday October 23.
Four pools of three teams will result in eight teams progressing to a “League” stage, which in turn will produce two semi-finals before the Final.
The twelve teams come from seven countries, comprising the top three IPL teams, both T20 finalists from each of South Africa, Australia and England, as well as the T20 winners from New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
Let’s take a quick glance at the sides.
Despite losing South African captain Graeme Smith to injury during the ICC Champions Trophy (no relation) in the Republic last week, Pro20 winners the Cape Cobras will still field a couple of trump cards in the form of Herschelle Gibbs and JP Duminy.
I’d expect the Cobras to be toward to pointy end of CLT20 proceedings.
Even without calling on Herschelle Gibbs as they were entitled, IPL champions the Deccan Chargers will surely go into the tournament as one of the favourites.
With players the calibre of Symonds, Gilchrist, Styris, Laxman, Vaas and Fidel Edwards, it’s hard not to like what the Chargers are likely to serve up.
If they don’t win the CLT20, they won’t be far away.
Another team rocked by the injury of a key player (AB de Villiers) in the last week, the Delhi Daredevils have the major benefit of playing in front of 50,000 screaming home fans.
Chock full of international stars still, including Sehwag, Gambhir, Vettori, Collingwood and Shah, the Daredevils also had to shell out the cash to Victoria for the services of Dutch-Australian left-arm quick Dirk Nannes.
To add to the drama, Nannes will face his Victorian team-mates first up early Saturday morning (AEDST).
The Diamond Eagles, despite being among the more consistent of the South African sides in recent seasons, might struggle a little bit in this company, given they have no currently-contracted South African internationals.
Captain and former South African middle order bat Boeta Dippenaar and wicketkeeper-bat Morne van Wyk will be the keys for a young side who were the Pro20 runners-up.
New South Wales, as the reigning Australian T20 Big Bash champions, will be under pressure to do well in the CLT20, and despite losing the likes of Haddin and Bracken to injury, will still boast internationals Warner, Hughes, Lee, Hauritz, Clark and Bollinger in their side, as well as captain Simon Katich.
Warner and Hughes opening will be looking to set up big totals and at the same time remind Australian selectors of their talent.
New Zealand champs the Otago Volts cannot easily be discounted, and will have Black Caps Redmond, Broom, Butler, and the McCullum brothers in their line-up, as well as Shane Warne’s favourite English player Dimitri Mascarenhas.
Undoubtedly Mascarenhas and Brendan McCullum will be looking for a big tournament, and if they can fire, Otago could cause plenty of surprises.
IPL runners-up Royal Challengers Bangalore would dearly loved to had a fit Kevin Pietersen, but even without him, captain Anil Kumble will still be able to call on the likes of internationals Taylor, Praveen Kumar, Dravid, Uthappa, Steyn, Boucher and Kallis from a pretty strong squad. Definitely a team to watch in this competition.
Somerset will heavily rely on veteran openers Marcus Trescothick and captain Justin Langer if they’re to get through to the final stages of the tournament.
That said, Somerset still have a pretty handy side that was able to surge to the final of the 2009 Twenty20 Cup, and they could well cause some headaches for more fancied opposition.
England’s best hopes for the CLT20 will rest with T20 Cup champions Sussex, who also boast some internationals including West Indian allrounder Dwayne Smith, Pakistan quick Yasir Arafat, Indian leggie Piyush Chawla, as well as current England all-rounder Luke Wright.
Sussex will be hoping for a repeat of their T20 Cup success, where momentum carried them to the title despite not topping their group.
Trinidad & Tobago come in to the CLT20 courtesy of taking the T20 cash from billionaire Allen Stanford, just before the US Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in to do the same.
With the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Darren Ganga and Denesh Ramdin leading the way, Trinidad & Tobago will be hoping their impressive domestic T20 record translates to the international stage.
Victoria will go into the CLT20 with very high hopes, having won the first three Australian T20 Big Bash series, and losing the final in the fourth.
Brad Hodge remains one of the best T20 batsmen in the world (as much as that pains me), and will be well supported in a very strong team by captain Cameron White, David Hussey, Andrew McDonald, Shane Harwood and Peter Siddle.
As good a contender as any of the leading sides.
The ingeniously named Wayamba Elevens round out the CLT20 field, as the winners of Sri Lanka’s Inter-Provincial T20 series.
Led by former international Jehan Mubarak, Wayamba will be capable of springing upsets with 10 other players with international experience including former national captain Mahela Jayawardene, spin genius Ajantha Mendis, and allrounder Farveez Maharoof.
So from twelve teams, chockers with internationals and domestic stars, how do you pick a winner? Well, you don’t.
Given T20 cricket is a lottery at the best of times, it’s nigh on impossible.
However, in the spirit of making bold predictions, I’d expect the Deccan Chargers, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Victoria and the Cape Cobras to make the semis, with the “highly commended” awards going to New South Wales and the Delhi Daredevils.
I can’t split Otago and Trinidad & Tobago as the “roughie” in a pretty tough field.
So if you’re smart, you’ll keep your betting money well away from these teams. As a punter, I make a pretty good kiss of death.