With India’s tour of England done and dusted, the focus now shifts to the sixth edition of the Champions League Twenty20, with the marquee event being held in India from 17 September to 6 October 2014. Before the main tournament starts, four qualifiers – Mumbai Indians (India), Southern Express (Sri Lanka), Northern Knights (New Zealand) and Lahore Lions (Pakistan), will slug it out among themselves, with the top two entering the final draw.While the star-studded Mumbai Indians team, even without the services of Rohit Sharma, out due to an injury sustained during the ODI series against England, is a strong favourite for one of the two slots, it would be interesting to explore the relative strengths and weaknesses of the remaining three teams, all of whom are a champion in their own country, and cannot be afforded to be taken lightly.
#1 Southern Express (SE)
Squad: Kusal Janith Perera, Dilshan T.M, Danushka Gunatilake, Angelo Perera, Jehan Mubarak, Niroshan Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera, Prasanna Seekuge, Ishan Jayaratne, Farveez Maharoof, Kasun Madushanka, Yasoda Lanka, Charith Jayampathi, Sachith Pathirana, Sandaken Lakshen
Ticket to CL T20 2014: Winners of 2014 Super 4's T20
Strengths: SE has a very strong batting line-up, starting with the explosive opening pair comprising national team stalwarts Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kusal Perera. Dilshan will be on a high after scoring two centuries for Surrey in List A cricket in the Royal London One-Day Cup, 2014, as well as an unbeaten half century against the touring Pakistan side last week. Kusal Perera is very highly rated, with his style and technique often being compared to Sanath Jayasuriya. Though he has had a pretty mediocre summer, even a quick-fire 25-30 runs can make a difference in this format. What is also encouraging for them is the form and experience of former Sri Lankan players like Jehan Mubarak and Farveez Maharoof, both of whom played key roles in ensuring the team’s triumph in the domestic T20 competition.
Weaknesses: SE’s biggest weakness is that they will be without the services of their skipper, Lasith Malinga, who will be turning out for Mumbai Indians in the tournament. Malinga’s absence makes SE’s bowling line-up very inexperienced and they will have to rely heavily on their batsman to make up for this inadequacy.
Surprise Package: Sachith Pathirana, a slow left-arm orthodox bowler, relatively unknown in international circles, took 4 and 3 wickets respectively in the semi-final and final of the 2014 Super 4s T20. All of his 3 wickets in the final came in the last over of the match; their opponents, Udarata Rulers, requiring 8 runs off the final over, with 5 wickets in hand, were firm favourites – however, the wily Pathirana picked up 3 wickets and stopped Udarata four runs short. In addition to his happy knack of picking up wickets and scoring crucial runs, the ability to keep his cool in a high intensity final speaks volumes of his temperament.
Prediction: SE are not expected to progress to the main draw of the tournament, given the presence of strong teams like the Mumbai Indians and the Lahore Lions. A lot will depend on the opening fixture against New Zealand’s Northern Knights; a defeat almost certainly eliminates SE – a victory may build momentum sufficient enough to upset one of the top two, thereby keeping hopes alive.