Auckland Aces v KKR, Group A, CLT20, Cape Town October 15, 2012

Mahmood is Auckland's secret ingredient

Azhar Mahmood has lit up the early stages of the Champions League and if he keeps that form up, Auckland could go deep into the tournament

Auckland had every reason to feel at home in Cape Town on Monday night. The North Island climate of their home city was replicated almost perfectly, as an icy south-easterly wind kept Shakib Al Hasan wrapped up in a blanket until he came out to bat, and had the cheerleaders hoping for boundaries to keep them dancing and warm on the sidelines.

Add to that the sparse turnout from Capetonians with no home side to cheer and little reason to brave the cold, and this might've been an Aces v Central Districts match at Pukekura Park. Indeed, Lou Vincent made the Knight Riders attack look like park cricketers in a ferocious assault that launched their chase, and with three wins on the trot Auckland have shown a hunger and fearlessness that should take them deep into this tournament.

But Auckland's success was not built on familiarity with conditions alone, and it was neither Kyle Mills nor Michael Bates who made the most of a green, New Zealand-style wicket. It wasn't Martin Guptill, ostensibly Auckland's best batsman, who guided their chase. On both counts, it was the evergreen Azhar Mahmood who shone for the unheralded Kiwi domestic side.

It says a lot about Auckland's fortunes that Mahmood, a few months from his 38th birthday and forgotten by Pakistan since the Caribbean World Cup five years ago, is their star player. The man who's plied his trade for Dhaka Gladiators, Islamabad Cricket Association, Kent, Kings XI Punjab, Lahore Badshahs, MCC, Pakistan International Airlines, Rawalpindi, Surrey, United Bank Limited and, of course, Pakistan, is now an integral part of yet another side.

"He's great to have in the side," said Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins. "His knowledge of cricket helps me out as captain, and helps both the bowlers and the batters out. He's a big part of our team."

Mahmood is in a fearsome run of form at the moment, and rode into this match on the glory of his record-setting five-wicket, fifty-run combo against Hampshire at Centurion. His MVP status is backed up by the stats: He's scored 130 Champions League runs, for just once out, and now has nine wickets at just 6.67 in the tournament.

His performance with the ball, removing Jacques Kallis and Manoj Tiwary with consecutive deliveries for ducks, was the fulcrum upon which this match turned, and Kolkata captain Gautam Gambhir admitted as much. "Azhar picked up two wickets in one over and that is where I think the game turned in their favour," he said. "I think he's a quality player. When things go your way, you've got to make the best use of it, and he is doing that.

Hopkins said: "The way that we bowled in that middle period, with Azhar picking up two quick wickets in that one over, I think that was the key to them only getting 130-odd."

Mahmood was at it yet again with the bat, guiding Auckland to victory with 14 balls to spare with an unbeaten 42-ball 51. That it was he who hit the winning runs proved a fitting end to the game for a man who has lit up the early stages of this tournament. That the stroke, a one-legged pull through midwicket, also took him to a second consecutive half-century made it even sweeter.

"Mahmood is such a quality player that he fits in around the other batters, and he assesses the situation and deals with it and he passes on that experience and gets confidence into the other batters," Hopkins said.

Apart from the Kolkata-Delhi derby, when one IPL team had to come out on top, the Fancy Dans of this tournament have struggled against the Plain Janes. Mahmood is rapidly showing that there's nothing plain about the Champions League's less glamorous teams.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • najam on October 17, 2012, 7:25 GMT

    @Qureshi: Perhaps you did not get the drift of my note. I think he has always been a magnificent player of the limited overs game. Very few like him still around who are game changers to the point they can win a game for you single handedly. Yet the Pakistani selectors let him slip away. Its not easy sitting out, you should ask Razzak. I hope he does not invite himself for another torcher. I think T20 leagues cricket in the next 5 years will overtake the formal international matches and Azhar is an amazing player of limited overs game, especially T20 will do well.

  • Dummy4 on October 16, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    @Cricketintheblood , he should be given a chance at international level. when so many old boys keep making comebacks and keep failing - Malik, Nazir, K Akmal, Sami, Arafat to name a few- why is he left out of favour for 5 years, especially now when he is in form of his life. He can easily play limited overs cricket for at least 2 more years given his fitness levels and his magnificent form with both bat and ball.

  • Dummy4 on October 16, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    no way DD r no way near going to win this......

  • najam on October 16, 2012, 13:00 GMT

    I have followed Azhar as a cricketer since his early days when he played in sharjah for pakistan. He was oozing of talent at the time. But as is true for pakistan cricket selectors, the moment he had a off season he was made to sit outside and slowly slipped out of the playing 14. Both Afridi and Razzak filled the all rounder spot for a while, till Razzak was shown the same treatment. For those who suggest that he should head back to Pakistan for selection, PLEASE have some sanity. We know you wish well for pakistan team, but at what price !!! I wish Azhar well and hope he continues to enjoy his cricket with Auckland and hopefully gets to play IPL and other major leagues :-)

  • Dummy4 on October 16, 2012, 10:02 GMT

    he is british citizen but he is still a Pakistan citizen also and he can play for pakistan and yesterday in his interview he says he wants to play for pakistan.cricinfo please publish this

  • Andre on October 16, 2012, 10:01 GMT

    Since the beginning of his short-lived international career he has a liking for South African conditions and playing against South Africa. It's a mystery to me how he could manage to perform brilliantly against one of the strongest teams of that era but struggled against everyone else. Hat off to the man from a South African cricket fan.

  • Sami on October 16, 2012, 9:25 GMT

    Lol @ People comparing Imran Nazir to Azhar Mahmood, did you even watch Azhar's batting and bowling? He isn't a wild slogger, he believes in timing and has alot of patience while batting, he is a perfect T20 material and will do well in Internationals too, it's just that Pakistan is plagued with politics that guys like Nazir, Afridi, K.Akmal keep coming back regardless of their abysmal performances!! Azhar Mahmood can still play for Pakistan because he is a multi-national - he holds a British & Pakistani Passport.

  • Dummy4 on October 16, 2012, 9:23 GMT

    @Shaukat : As an Indian, I support Azhar !! Champions league can't be considered as a domestic league....Azhar has always been underlooked by PCB...One of the best allrounders in the Pak team!!! As you know, PCB selection committee is always a big mystery..

  • Dummy4 on October 16, 2012, 8:15 GMT

    Yes player like him and Imran Nazir can only play well in ping pong cricket leagues.

  • Tuhi on October 16, 2012, 5:41 GMT

    Don't worry atleast DD is the only IPL team to register a win..DD will beat a non-IPL team soon too.

    .And that shows that KKR can be IPL champions but surely not CLT20 because if you have to be a CLT20 champion, you need to know how to play in conditions outside India.

    And I am happy to see non-IPL teams performing well. Though, I am an Indian and IPL fan but it shows that how Cricket specially T20 is a game of uncertainties and how any team on their day can beat any team of the world......

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