Amply demonstrating all the qualities that took them to the domestic HRV Cup Twenty20 title in New Zealand, Otago Volts made a stirring start in their bid to qualify for the main draw of the Champions League Twenty20 2013. (Match highlights)
Up against Faisalabad Wolves, the Pakistan champions who, for all their enthusiasm, looked a little short on quality beyond Misbah-ul-Haq and Saeed Ajmal, Otago stormed to an eight-wicket victory with 13 deliveries to spare at PCA Stadium in Mohali in the opening match of the qualifying competition on a warm, largely windless Tuesday (September 17).
Otago had warmed up for the qualifiers by winning four games in eight days in Sri Lanka on their way to Mohali. That stood them in wonderful stead as they brushed aside Faisalabad's challenge, existent mainly when Misbah was laying into the Otago bowlers or Ajmal was asking uncomfortable questions of their batsmen.
Misbah had provided both the stability and the enterprise after opting to bat, the fulcrum around which Faisalabad posted 139 for 8. It wasn't a massively intimidating total on a sluggish surface that didn't exactly encourage stroke-making, and Otago put that total in perspective as they replied in kind through Brendon McCullum, who won the battle of the captains hands down to power his side to 142 for 2 with a muscular unbeaten 83.
McCullum walked out to face the third delivery of the chase after Samiullah Khan, the tall left-arm paceman, had produced a beauty to get rid of Neil Broom, caught at slip, without a run on the board. McCullum began with two cracking boundaries but then suddenly seemed to lose his way even as Hamish Rutherford, the extraordinarily talented left-hand batsman, lay into Khurram Shehzad's offspin with ill-concealed glee.
Rutherford smashed three sixes and a four in his 12-ball 25 before being undone by Ajmal, triggering a phase of uncertainty and diffidence with the bat. McCullum lost his timing while Derek de Brooder, the wicketkeeper-batsman, struggled to get the ball off the square, as Faisalabad started to tighten the noose.
With the rate required gradually getting into the eight-an-over mark, something had to give, and it did in the 12th over. De Brooder and McCullum took a liking to Ehsan Adil's medium pace, smashing him around the park to collect 17. The tide had emphatically turned, and the captain and his understudy assumed charge, in the end putting together 101 in just 75 deliveries to hasten the end.
Haste was the last thing on Faisalabad's mind as they kept losing wickets at the wrong times at the start of their innings. James McMillan, working up excellent pace despite bowling from a short, ambling run-up, hustled Ammar Mahmood and Ali Waqas, the openers, into submission, and Asif Ali was consumed by James Neesham after a brief flurry.
Enter Misbah, at the top of the eighth over with just 34 on the board. For once, he didn't take his time; aware that his team was running out of overs, Misbah went on overdrive right from the beginning, taking Nathan McCullum's offspin apart with brilliant strokes that mocked the size of the ground. Though he normally favours the 'V', Misbah was happy hitting square on both sides this time around, totally calling the shots in a stand of 61 for the fifth wicket with Shehzad, largely becalmed but keeping his end up.
Otago were just beginning to falter when Ian Butler, as impressive as any of the other three seamers, produced a beauty of a yorker to send Misbah packing. Faisalabad remained busy for the rest of the innings and scored 94 in the last ten overs, but had scored far too slowly in the first ten to make a real match of it.