A league which was born out of the hugely successful IPL, CLT20 is gradually establishing its identity but it would take some time for it to truly find a connect with the fans. The event will kick off with Faisalabad Wolves, led by Pakistan's Terst skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, taking on New Zealand's Otago Volts in the first qualifier tomorrow.
This would be followed by a star-studded Sunrisers Hyderabad, led by Delhi-dasher Shikhar Dhawan, squaring off against Sri Lanka's Kandurata Maroons in the second qualifier at the PCA stadium. Barring Volts, the other three teams in the Qualifiers come from the sub-continent, but none among the four feels that either has any big advantage in the event.
The top two teams will advance to the main draw, which has three Indian teams in fray -- IPL champions Mumbai Indians, runners-up Chennai Super Kings and third-place finishers Rajasthan Royals. In tomorrow's opening match, the Wolves would mainly rely on their young players including promising medium-pacer Ehsan Adil, Ali Waqas, Khuram Shahzad, Asad Ali, besides banking on the experience of skipper Misbah and Saeed Ajmal, who has been a national asset in all three formats after his Test debut four years back.
The Wolves, who had some visa issues when they landed here, will draw strength from the fact that at the domestic level, they beat teams that had many stars. The Wolves are only the second team from Pakistan to compete in the event after Sialkot Stallions last year. Their presence in the event was ensured after much speculation that arose out of rising border tensions between India and Pakistan.
"Barring Misbah and Ajmal, we are mainly a young squad, but there is lot of potential in our young players. We are confident that they will deliver at the big stage," the team's wicketkeeper and vice-captain, Mohamed Salman said. "Even though we don't have international cricket happening in our country, the standard of our domestic cricket is very high...I don't see the lack of international cricket in Pakistan making any difference to our performance," he said.
Salman and coach Naveed Anjum feel that Misbah brings with him wealth of experience and has also performed brilliantly in the shorter version of the game. "Misbah performed brilliantly for us in the shorter versions, especially in the last season. He was the highest run-getter for us in our domestic T20 tournament. Besides being highly important to the team as a batsman, he plays a very crucial role as the leader," said Anjum.
The team has been practising hard back home for the tournament and familiar surfaces of the sub-continent would be a bonus for it. Volts, who crashed out of the 2009 season by losing their first two matches, have the likes of swashbuckling skipper Brendon McCullum and brother Nathan McCullum to negate any advantage the other teams may get by virtue of familiar surfaces.
The Kiwis arrived here after a training camp in Sri Lanka to get used to the conditions. "This is a tough Qualifiers round. Look at all the teams, they are all good on the paper. We know it is going to be tough for us to get past the Qualifiers," McCullum said.
The Kiwi wicketkeeper-batsman said beating tough opponents will surely give them the confidence as they go ahead in the tournament. "The wicket is slightly faster and bouncier than the normal Indian tracks, we can be confident that we have the right team to exploit the conditions."
He said his team was also confident of tackling the spin bowling challenge and had done all the preparations. In tomorrow's second game Shikhar Dhawan's star-studded Sunrisers Hyderabad, featuring the likes of Parthiv Patel, Cameron White, Darren Sammy, Dale Steyn, Thisara Perera and Ishant Sharma, would aim for a win.
Dhawan, who was named as the side's captain after Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara opted to play for the Maroons, has been in rollicking form, earning the Man of the Series in the Champions Trophy in England.
The 27-year-old left-handed batsman feels captaincy is a new challenge and he is looking forward to it. Sri Lankan Lahiru Thirimanne, captaining Kandurata Maroons, will take solace from the fact that the presence of international cricketers such as Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis and Nuwan Kulasekara besides Rangana Herath, give his team a good balance of youth and experience.
"We are a young team but some of our players are very experienced and that makes for a very good combination," the Maroons skipper said. The Squads for the qualifiers: Faisalabad Wolves: Misbah-ul-Haq, Asif Alli, Ali Waqas, Khuram Shahzad, Muhammad Salman, Waqas Mqsood, Sami Ullah Kham Niazi, Asad Ali, Saeed Ajmal, Ehsan Adil, Hassan Mahmood, Rana Jahandad Khan, Farrukh Shahzad, Imran Khalid, Ammar Mahmood Khan.
Otago Volts: Nicholas Beard, Michael Bracewell, Neil Broom, Ian Butler, Mark Craig, Derek de Boorder, Jacob Duffy, Brendon McCullum, James McMillan, James Neesham, Aaron Redmond, Hamish Rutherford, Ryan ten Doeschate, Neil Wagner. Sunrisers Hyderabad: Shikhar Dhawan, Parthiv Patel, Cameron White, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Darren Sammy, Biplab Samantray, Thisara Perera, Karan Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, Ashish Reddy, Ishant Sharma, Anand Rajan. Kandurata Maroons: Lahiru Thirimanne, Nuwan Kulasekara, Upul Tharanga, Thilina Kandamby, Kumar Sangakkara, Shehan Jayasuriya, Chamara Silva, Milinda Siriwardana, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Dhammika Prasad, Ajantha Mendis, Kaushal Lokuarachchi, Lahiru Jayaratne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Suraj Randiv.
Pics: Prabhas, Tamannaah Bhatia at 'Baahubali 2' first look launch at MAMI
'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' photos: Aishwarya, Anushka, Karan get candid at MAMI
Photos: Huma Qureshi, Neha Dhupia and other celebs at MAMI
Photos: Amy Jackson, Daisy Shah at Mumbai airport
Photos: Sridevi, Irrfan and other celebs at 'Mughal-e-Azam' screening