Johannesburg: Invincible so far in the competition, Sydney Sixers are firm favourites for the title but South Africa's enterprising Highveld Lions would look to upset the Australian powerhouse's applecart when the two sides clash in the Champions League Twenty20 final here tomorrow. Sydney won each of their five matches -- including four group stage games -- to be considered by far the best team to take the field in the competition.
Despite losing the services of their match-winner, prolific all-rounder Shane Watson, Sydney were strong enough for the Mumbai Indians in their final Group fixture and their semifinal clash against the Titans even though it was a close shave last night.The unavailability of Watson is certainly a big blow for Sydney Sixers, given that a winner's cheque of USD 2,500,000 rides on this match.
Watson, incidentally, was a key figure when Sydney beat the Lions in a low-scorer during the group stage earlier in the tournament. However, the Australian outfit will not be too concerned, given they have several players who have been in good touch. Skipper Brad Haddin has been consistently among the runs. Michael Lumb too has been in outstanding form, having scored in every outing. In Moises Henriques and Steve Smith, the Sixers have two players in their middle order who are contributing regularly.
But a few chinks in the armour were left exposed by the last-ball last night's win over Titans during which Smith and Haddin failed to add anything significant. Sydney's bowling has been impressive with Mitchell Starc being the leading wicket-taker. In Pat Cummins, the Sixers have another strike bowler, while the likes of Moises Henriques and Josh Hazlewood have been very effective in the middle overs.However, the attack did leak crucial runs in the death overs of the clash against Titans.
"Our running between the wickets could probably improve. I think our first 16 over were brilliant but our death bowling let us down (but) we have to give credit to their batsmen, (David) Wiese and (Henry) Davids were whacking the ball so, (we could) probably (work on) the death bowling and not losing wickets consistently," feels Cummins. The Lions, on the other hand, would be happy to start as underdogs as it would ease the pressure on them.
Opening batsman, Gulam Bodi, is the team's top run-getter in the competition. The Lions will be banking on him to get them off to a good start. Neil McKenzie too has been among the runs but he would need to convert his starts into match-winning performances. Quinton de Kock, who was tipped as one of the players to watch in the days leading up to the tournament, would also aim to come good tomorrow. On the bowling front, the Lions have quite an ace up their sleeve in the form of left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso.
He is the Lions' leading wicket-taker and has bowled beautifully. Phangiso, in fact, tops the list of Lions' wicket-takers accounting for 30 scalps in 33 T20 games for his team. The Lions will also bank on the home support they are likely to enjoy to outwit Sydney, a team which has looked unstoppable all through the event.
Sydney Sixers: Brad Haddin (captain/keeper), Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Michael Lumb, Nathan McCullum, Nic Maddinson, Ian Moran, Peter Nevill, Steve O'Keefe, Ben Rohrer, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Dominic Thornely.
Highveld Lions: Alviro Petersen (captain), Temba Bavuma, Gulam Bodi, Zander de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Neil McKenzie, Pumelela Matshikwe, Chris Morris, Dirk Nannes, Ethan O'Reilly, Aaron Phangiso, Dwaine Pretorius, Sohail Tanvir, Jean Symes, Thami Tsolekile (wicketkeeper).