Sialkot carry Pakistan hopes on debut
Match factsOctober 9, 2012
Start time 1730 (1530 GMT)
How they qualifiedAuckland Aces: Winners of the HRV Cup, New Zealand's domestic competition
Sialkot Stallions: Winners of the Faysal Bank Super Eight T20 Cup, one of Pakistan's T20 domestic competitions
Big PictureAt long last, a Pakistan team will make its debut in the Champions League T20, when Sialkot Stallions face off against Auckland Aces. Sialkot were scheduled to play in the inaugural CLT20 in 2008, but the Mumbai bomb blasts caused that event to be postponed and the resulting freeze in India-Pakistan relations kept them out of the tournament since. At that time, they were midway through compiling one of the most awesome records in cricket - a streak of 25 successive wins in T20s, the most fickle and egalitarian format of the game.
Their recent form is just as impressive, and were barely troubled during their run to the Faysal Bank Super Eight T20 Cup title. Their dominance was reflected in the margin of victories: five wickets, nine wickets, seven wickets, 40 runs and, in the final, eight wickets. They lack the star power of some of the other teams, but they have several experienced T20 campaigners including captain Shoaib Malik, opener Imran Nazir and fast bowler Naved-ul-Hasan. One of the revelations of the World T20, left-arm spinner Rana Hasan, is also part of the squad.
Auckland Aces also have little experience at the CLT20, though they are making their second appearance in the tournament. Last season, they lost both their qualifying matches, but were agonisingly close to winning both: they went down by two runs to Kolkata Knight Riders, and were trumped off the last ball by Somerset. Their captain, Gareth Hopkins, insists last year's experience will help the team this time round, and that Auckland have realised the importance of preparation as they come into the tournament after a long winter break. Their campaign could last only two days but they are making sure they are thoroughly ready for it, having arrived in South Africa as early as two weeks ago.
Players to watchWhile Naved-ul-Hasan hasn't managed to nail down a spot in Pakistan's T20 side, he is a fixture in the short-form leagues around the world. This year itself, he has represented Uthura Oryxes (in the SLPL), Derbyshire (in the Friends Life t20), Sialkot Stallions, Dhaka Gladiators (in the BPL) and Hobart Hurricanes (in the Big Bash League). In Hobart, he has become something of a local cult hero with his ability to regularly take wickets, and his flamboyant mullet. A master of bowling at the death, with great control over the slower ball and the yorker, his form will have a huge role in determining how far Sialkot progress in the tournament.
Another experienced Pakistan player, Azhar Mahmood will be critical to Auckland's performance. With Auckland unfamiliar with the games of many of Sialkot's players, Mahmood will be able to provide them some insight on the opposition. He can turn matches with either bat or ball, as he has repeatedly shown in T20 leagues in several countries.
Quotes"We're not looking to qualify but to win this tournament. That spirit is special."
Azhar Mahmood is aiming high
"We have the ingredients to become champions as we're a balanced team. Our biggest positive is our captain who has proved himself a great leader in crunch situations."
Sialkot coach Naved Anjum thinks his team can go far in the tournment
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo