Otago Volts: Playing a refreshingly audacious brand of cricket
It’s not a fair game all the time, cricket.
Sometimes, even after doing so well, and having performed better than most, luck just gives you a slip. But one New Zealand side which plummeted out of Champions League T20 despite a stupendous record, would know better than to hold any grudge against Lady Luck.
Otago Volts, undefeated in 5 games out of the 6 they played, find themselves packing their bags after Mumbai Indians chose to show their better side at a very inopportune moment for the New Zealand team.
In a very T20-ish turn of events, all it took were 2 days of bad luck for Otago to be eliminated from the tournament after being almost assured of a place in the semis.
With the kind of form that Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have been in, at first look, it’s hard to look beyond them in terms of choosing favourites in this tournament. But then, there are teams that simply blow you off your feet and produce moments of such brilliance that there’s an irresistible urge to cheer for them.
After Brendon McCullum, that one inspirational figure in the side that pulled everyone up, provided a thunderous innings in the qualifiers, Otago went under the radar while everyone focussed on Sunrisers Hyderabad and Faisalabad Wolves. They finally came into the limelight after a maverick performance against Perth Scorchers in Jaipur.
That complete innings against the Australian franchise was something to be seen to be believed; not just because of the carnage later on in the innings, but the sheer audacity of their batsmen when faced with the threat of an early collapse.
At 9/2, when any other team would have wanted some calm heads in the middle, Otago batsmen went about heaving their bats at almost every delivery! It was a different feeling watching the maddening tactics on the field as the likes of Neil Broom and Derek de Boorder flayed their bats at anything that came their way, middling it on more occasions than not.
They could have been easily 20/4, with the tactics they deployed, but they found themselves scoring a humongous 242. Otago were brave, but equally lucky that day.
Then came the mother of all thrilling games. Against Highveld Lions, they produced one epic contest, and quite unsurprisingly, their tactics remained unchanged.
Supporting the New Zealand side, when I found myself being nonchalant about a rising run rate despite the regular fall of wickets, it was a realisation of the extent that this team can inspire its fans to.
Being true to their moniker, the ‘Volts’ displayed great potential and provided an electrifying experience with their play in the tournament. (Hold the urge of that face palm moment). Watching them bat, bowl or field, there was hardly a dull moment for the viewers.
In Mohali during the qualifiers , the pace duo of Ian Butler and James McMillan were a treat to watch, skidding their fast-ish deliveries into the batsmen, rarely giving them freebies to score.
Brendon McCullum, free from the worries of choosing franchises to represent, played a few free flowing knocks. Ryan ten Doeschate, that one unlucky yet wonderfully talented cricketer of our times, proved how important he is for any side with some pacy innings and useful wickets.
Coming into the main event, their match against Mumbai Indians washed out, Otago faced some uncertain times in the group.
McCullum went off the boil, but ten Doeschate didn’t. Butler went for plenty, but McMillan held firm. And other heroes emerged. De Boorder’s innings against the Scorchers in Jaipur was criminally overlooked, but Broom didn’t forget to underline its importance.
But over the McCullums, Broom, Doeschate and others, the one name that Otago fans back home and the new ones here in India will remember, is James Douglas Sheahan Neesham.
Jimmy Neesham, as he’s more commonly known as, is one terrific find of the tournament for Otago and New Zealand without a doubt.
In the Nolan-esque ending provided by Otago and Lions, he was at the centre of it all, smashing 52 off 25, and bowling that epic final Super Over.
After the disappointment subsides for Otago fans, the realisation would come that luck had an equal hand in their success, as it did in their ouster.
Watching Otago play was refreshingly different, and it has left a lasting impression. To watch a team play with such audacity, but back it up with equal amount of talent and self belief, was simply wonderful.
After a long time, more than the individuals, it was the collective effort of a team that mesmerised the fans in T20s. Otago may not have won the trophy, but they are not returning home without gaining anything from the Champions League.