Never before have three Indian, or Indian Premier League, teams made the semifinals of the Champions League Twenty20. That it happened this time was primarily due to some frenetic hitting from Dwayne Smith and Rohit Sharma at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Wednesday (October 2) when, given 150 to chase down in 14.2 overs, Mumbai Indians crossed the line with six balls to spare against Perth Scorchers. Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals had already reached the knockouts and, later in the evening, Trinidad and Tobago joined them there.
How well does that placement reflect the teams' ability and performance at the tournament though? No questions when it comes to Rajasthan, Chennai and Trinidad. And going by the evidence provided by Mumbai on Wednesday, they get the thumbs up too. But Otago Volts might feel a bit hard done by. Their match against Mumbai was washed out, but they won the main draw matches against Perth Scorchers and Highveld Lions, losing only to Rajasthan Royals, after winning all their three qualifiers. But that's exactly what Mumbai also achieved, and Mumbai would have felt as aggrieved as Otago if they had crashed out under similar circumstances.
But what a manic Wednesday it turned out to be. Of the four teams in action, only one was already in the knockouts - Chennai - while Perth were out of the reckoning. The teams with a definite goal in front of them were Mumbai and T&T; both had to win and win within a specific number of overs (or runs, but that became irrelevant as they both chased) to keep their campaigns going.
"In Twenty20 cricket, you can take nothing for granted," Mike Hussey had said after Chennai beat Brisbane Heat in Ranchi on September 28. He's not the first one to have said it, but both Mumbai and T&T proved just how prophetic Hussey's words were.
Mumbai had the tougher task - restrict Perth to whatever they could and then chase down the target in a handful of overs, Otago being well ahead of them on net run-rate. Smith got 11 runs in the first over and scored his 48 runs at a strike-rate of 200 before being dismissed. The scoring rate never dipped, and if Smith's hitting was exhilarating, Rohit's was a notch higher, four sixes and three fours in 24-ball blitz that left him unbeaten on 51, even as Ambati Rayudu finished matters with successive sixes. On the evening, the Kotla boundaries were just not far enough for them.
As the evening progressed, the plot thickened. The Super Kings from Chennai were already in the semis but were not yet guaranteed the top spot from the group - an important position because travelling to Rajasthan's home turf, the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, is no one's idea of a happy vacation. Rajasthan have won all their IPL 2013 matches in Jaipur this year and then each of the CLT20 2013 games too and would be big favourites in the semis, whoever the opposition.
Clinical as Chennai have been over the years, one would have backed them to pull it off, except that they came up against an extremely determined T&T outfit and also showed, as Stephen Fleming said later, a distinct lack of intensity.
Before the match started, it was a contest between Titans and T&T for a spot in the semis, with only net run-rate separating the two teams. By the time it ended, with Lendl Simmons playing a starring role with ball and bat, Titans weren't even in the discussion. It was all about T&T's heist and Chennai's travel plans.
Of the lot, there's no doubt that Rajasthan have looked the strongest. As has been the norm with them, individuals have put up their hands just when needed, whether that's Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Samson, Brad Hodge or Stuart Binny, or even the lesser stars like Pravin Tambe, Vikramjeet Malik and Rahul Shukla. Indeed, among the quietest for them so far are the big men - Shane Watson and Rahul Dravid - and if they join the party, especially Watson, the team will look even stronger.
Chennai aren't inferior to them, but a collapse to 118 runs is never a good sign. It probably showed up more chinks than there really are. One gap, however, that can't be denied is Ravindra Jadeja, who has been off-colour with bat and ball in recent times. Fleming did concede that the team needed a little bit more from him, as the side's leading allrounder.
The other match-up looks very even too - between Mumbai's superstars and T&T's ambitious bunch. Some of T&T's stars - Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Kevon Cooper - are with the other three semifinalists, and on the weight of names, Mumbai are ahead. But with T&T punching above their weight so far, and with Sunil Narine in their ranks, the balance could tilt in their favour very quickly indeed.
An exciting extended weekend lined up then, with three matches that promise to be very evenly matched. But barring two exceptional results for T&T, the trophy should come to India after the Sydney Sixers triumphed in 2012.