Lions not surprised at beating IPL sides
There is a peculiar magic to unfancied sides that strike upon a winning formula. An underdog spirit that speaks of a whole greater than the sum of its parts, it bubbles to the surface in spontaneous displays of joie de vivre when the big boys are taken down a notch.
Trinidad & Tobago displayed such a sparkle during their run to the final of the inaugural Champions League in 2009. And in 2012, the Lions increasingly appear infused with the same spirit after inspired wins against two box office IPL sides - Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings.
In consecutive games, the Lions squad watched as their batsmen overcame star-studded opposition attacks. Both times, they lined up at the boundary's edge as the match reached its denouement, charging onto the field to embrace their team-mates once victory was sealed. Their success has been surprising only to those outside a Lions camp suffused with steel and self-belief.
"We always knew that we could be in a position like this," Lions captain Alviro Petersen said. "Against Mumbai, it was a calm and focussed performance. Here again, we were under pressure with the bat and the guys just stayed calm. We knew exactly what we could do if we could take the game to the last couple of overs."
The Lions are aware of the danger of getting ahead of themselves with only half the job done in this tournament, and Petersen insisted that, while it's important to enjoy success, they'd soon be switching their focus to the game against Sydney Sixers on Thursday.
"Being on an emotional high, like we've been against Mumbai Indians, it was important to get off our high horse and just start focussing on Chennai," he said. "And it's going to be exactly the same now.
"We obviously enjoyed the success and winning the game, but it's important that when tomorrow afternoon and evening comes we're focussed on the Sixers and put our plans in place for them."
Neil McKenzie and Quinton de Kock guided the Lions home against Mumbai with an unbroken 121-run partnership. This time around, Gulam Bodi's two-paced fifty, which switched between snail-speed and high-octane in the space of a couple of deliveries, powered their chase.
Though it's been the emotionally-charged celebrations of Lions' batsmen that have caught the attention of the photographers' lenses, one of the chief architects of their victories has been the fittingly unassuming Aaron Phangiso.
Phangiso has three wickets at 11.33 in the tournament so far, and has reluctantly given away runs at just 4.25 to the over. Tonight, he also added a remarkable backpedalling, diving catch to his contribution to get rid of the dangerous Faf du Plessis. "You don't practice stuff like that, it just happens," Phangiso said. "It happens in the moment. I was lucky to get it in the hands."
Born in Ga-Rankuwa, just north of Pretoria, Phangiso showed plenty of early promise and played Under-19 cricket for South Africa before his first-class debut eight years ago. He knocked around various academy, domestic and provincial sides, playing club cricket for Downham Town in the Norfolk Premier Division in England, before making something of a name for himself as a limited-overs bowler with the Lions.
With a CV like that, one might expect a little apprehension at bowling at the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni, but Phangiso isn't one to be bothered by reputation. "Honestly speaking, I don't look at names," he said. "I just work on my game and try and execute what I do best. I don't really look at who's batting or not, if I just hit my lines then I'm fine. Whichever way it goes, then so be it. History is written already."
With a few more plucky performances, characteristic of the team he plays for, Phangiso could well be helping to write a significant slice of cricketing history in the weeks to come.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town