Otago Volts, unbeaten in a Twenty20 match since November 2012, will be looking at taking one more step towards nailing down a semifinal spot in the Champions League Twenty20 2013 when they face Highveld Lions on Sunday (September 29) at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
Otago have taken the qualifying route into the main draw of the CLT20, and have quickly established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the competition, with a string of good performances and solid, all-round strength in the squad.
The batting unit fired spectacularly against the inexperienced Perth Scorchers on Wednesday, putting up a record-breaking 242 for 4. Brendon McCullum, the captain, failed after showing fine form in the qualifiers, but as James Neesham, the young allrounder, pointed out, "It was good to show everyone else that we're not a one-trick pony as a batting line-up."
Otago have six points with the highest net run-rate in Group A, while the Lions' only points have come from their washed out match against Perth in Ahmedabad on September 23. By contrast, the Lions' batting unit has looked distinctly unconvincing in losses against Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians. Alviro Petersen, the captain, has been a class apart, but has lacked precious support.
The Lions' bowling is their strength on paper, and they've found seamer-friendly conditions in Jaipur. But they will need to perform exceptionally to consistently manufacture wins out of thin batting totals, especially in Twenty20 cricket. They still have a chance to qualify for the semifinal, but it's so slim that Geoffrey Toyana, the coach, called it a "mythical" chance.
Attendance was sparse at an optional Lions practice session on Saturday, while Otago held a full and fairly intense session.
Otago's strength lies in their depth, with Ryan ten Doeschate leading the allrounders in the squad. ten Doeschate has struck the ball fiercely and well, and provided key breakthroughs when called on to bowl too. Neesham said the depth and flexibility in the squad alloweds Otago to attack relentlessly, a strategy that has paid off so far.
The only point of worry before the match could be the rains, which have plagued the entire tournament. More rain is forecast in Jaipur on Sunday, and with a double header scheduled, interruptions could be costly.
The pitch at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium is one that both sides will be familiar with. They've been in the city for a while and the bouncy surface which has aided seam movement is one that is familiar for both from matches in their respective countries too.
"We're probably quite lucky that the wickets aren't typical Indian wickets," said Derek de Boorder, the Otago wicketkeeper, on Saturday. "We are used to something similar, and it's what we play on back home in New Zealand. We have sporting wickets around the country that can keep a bit low at times. The facilities here are quite similar, so it's a little bit of advantage for us."
The Lions will need something special to stop Otago and halt their winning streak at 14 matches. As for Otago, they will not only target victory, but by another sizeable margin, so that if net run-rate equations come into play, they'll be safe.
Otago Volts: Brendon McCullum (capt), Nicholas Beard, Michael Bracewell, Neil Broom, Ian Butler, Mark Craig, Derek de Boorder (wk), Jacob Duffy, James McMillan, James Neesham, Aaron Redmond, Hamish Rutherford, Ryan ten Doeschate, Neil Wagner.
Highveld Lions: Alviro Petersen (capt), Temba Bavuma, Gulam Bodi, Quinton De Kock (wk), Neil McKenzie, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ethan O'Reilly, Hardus Viljoen, Rassie van der Dussen, Aaron Phangiso, Thami Tsolekile (wk), Dwaine Pretorius, Jean Symes, Imran Tahir, Sohail Tanvir.