Country: New Zealand
Team: Auckland (Auckland Aces)
Now before we move onto the next team in our prestigious T20 tournament, an interesting piece of buzz is making its way across borders into the battlefield. Combined with Ruhuna, the Auckland Aces (the NZ team in question here) is the only other team to have been written off even before the qualifying stages begin. That seems a bit unfair to me- because the HRV T20 Cup (the NZ domestic league) is the only league in the world that seems to make complete sense to me. Why, you ask?
Because it is a LEAGUE. And the best team is decided by simple riskfree mathematics: The team that has the most points at the end of 10 games- basically, the six teams play each other twice. Home and Away. IPL had that system well in place- until overwhelmingly the happy-ending underdogging Indian mentality forced us to have a bit of knockout fun just to give the ‘minnows’ a chance. Otherwise, how in the world will you explain Deccan Chargers and the Royal Challengers reaching the final of 2009?
The format in a country like NZ, which, surprisingly has the maximum amount of domestic competitions in place out of every cricket-playing country (including women’s competition)- seems to make perfect sense if you want your most consistent team playing on the World Stage. This year, it will be the formidable Auckland Aces- who will have to bear the indignity of qualifying first. If they do, it could be the start of a nice little fairytale story. They, for sure, stand more of a chance than an inexperienced Ruhuna side.
Where’s my Totem?
One of the oldest associations in the world, The Auckland Cricket Association, has made sure of the fact that the Aces trump the electrifying Central Stags (last year’s participants) and make their first CL appearance ever. Inspite of winning the same number of games in the league, a low-scoring tie between the Aces and the lowly Otago Volts may have sealed the deal and prevented the Stags (with a higher NRR) from qualifying. After a long gap of 5 years, the Aces have won the right to represent their country, and will hope to go one better than the underwhelming Stags did last year.
Auckland is the most successful domestic team in their country’s history, and they have the numbers to back them- but they have had a dry run over the last decade or so- and will do well to pull a T&T at this year’s competition. Pollard plays for them (that’s 4 teams this year), yes he does, but the Mumbai Indians may need him way more than the Aces do right now.
A squad that includes quite a few capped NZ nationals, Auckland is coached by the wily Paul Strang- the former Zimbabwean Spin Magician who made a mark in the 96 World Cup. The ex-mainstay of the NZ batting order, Lou Vincent is the most experienced batsman in the side, and along with Martin Guptill, the current in-form opener, the Aces can pack quite a punch as far as putting a score up on the board is concerned.
The bowling is what really catches your eyes, and Indian cricket fans could run a revolution to have half of them in current English seaming conditions. Tuffey (Ganguly’s bogey bowler), the inexhaustible Chris Martin (also known as the worst batsman in the world), Kyle Mills and Andre Adams (the guy who bowled Kumble with the weirdest ball in the history of world cricket) form the crux of their bowling line-up. They could be quite a handful, once they adjust to the weather and a bit of Delhi Belly.
If this competition was played in seamer-friendly conditions like England or South Africa, I’d have bet my bottom dollar on this team going far into the competition and blowing away a few champion egos on the way. But we’re in India. In a bruised-and-battered Dhoni’s backyard mostly, and considering the sheer lack of big-match players like Taylor or Oram in their squad- this could be a tough tournament for them.
I’d still bet on them coming through qualifying with two other teams- KKR (unless SRK cheers them on) and one of the English teams (depending on which has more Indians and South Africans)
Finally, we will move onto the World Champion (don’t laugh) country next- India- and analyze the four injury-stricken teams that may take part this year. Whatever it is, it will be a good change from watching most all players from those teams finding new ways to get beaten back as part of our national team in the ‘mother’ country.