Bangalore: The Champions League Twenty20 will get off to a resounding start on Friday when the Royal Challengers Bangalore take on the Warriors, with the first game of the group stage pitting together two sides that are genuine title contenders.
Both teams came close to winning the tournament last year, with RCB reaching the semis while the Warriors ended up as the runners-up. Incidentally, both sides also finished second in their respective domestic T20 leagues this season. So confidence will be high in both camps, though the South African side has the added advantage of having played together as a unit for a longer period.
Home advantage will be with the Royal Challengers, but the absence of experienced pacer Zaheer Khan will hit them hard. Left-arm Australian fast bowler Dirk Nannes can be a replacement, but may miss out due to the restriction on the number of foreign players a team is allowed to field. Abhimanyu Mithun has shown potential, while the likes of Chris Gayle and Tillakaratne Dilshan can also chip in to stem the flow of runs. Still, skipper Daniel Vettori will have to lead from the front, with the veteran spinner capable of making life difficult for any batsman.
The key man for RCB will be Chris Gayle. The explosive West Indian opener’s exploits in IPL-4 almost single-handedly led the Bangalore side to the final, as he finished as the top-scorer with an astonishing 608 runs in 12 matches at a strike rate of 183.13.
Though short of match practice, Gayle can easily take the game away from the Warriors if he gets going. Add to that the likes of wicket-keeper batsman AB de Villiers, opener Dilshan, rising star Virat Kohli and youngster Saurabh Tiwary, and it isn’t hard to see why RCB’s chances will be so dependent on their batsmen’s performance. Dilshan and Kohli are in form as well – Dilshan got a century in the first T20I against Australia, while Kohli also made a hundred in the final ODI in England.
The Warriors’ batting line-up isn’t as strong, missing the services of Jacques Kallis and Davy Jacobs. But Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher are experienced campaigners, while Colin Ingram will hope to catch the eye of the national selectors. Nicky Boje and Johan Botha can also chip in with useful cameos.
But it is their bowling that can cause real damage, even in Indian conditions, boasting of fast bowlers like Makhaya Ntini, Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Rusty Theron can trouble batsmen with his variation, while the duo of Boje and Botha can restrict the runs with their accurate spin.
The tournament’s format allows little breathing space, making every game crucial, and neither team will want to fall behind in the race for the semi-finals. The two sides are relatively evenly matched. Their superior fielding and well-settled team may give the Warriors the upper hand, but Bangalore can count on the crowd support at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium when they open their campaign on Friday.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Daniel Vettori (c), Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Virat Kohli, Mohammad Kaif, Mayank Agarwal, Sreenath Aravind, Arun Karthik, Raju Bhatkal, Abhimanyu Mithun, Dirk Nannes, Asad Pathan, Jamaluddin Syed Mohammad, Saurabh Tiwary.
Warriors: Johan Botha (c), Nicky Boje, Mark Boucher, Colin Ingram, Andrew Birch, Justin Kreusch, Lyall Meyer, Makhaya Ntini, Wayne Parnell, Ashwell Prince, JJ Smuts, Kelly Smuts, Rusty Theron, Craig Thyssen, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.