Yorkshire richer for the experience
When Yorkshire qualified for the main draw of the Champions League T20, their captain Andrew Gale said it would "not matter if we lose every match, we just want to enjoy the rollercoaster ride." It has not got that bad yet, but it could.
Yorkshire have already lost to Sydney Sixers and Lions, and overcoming Chennai Super Kings will be a tough ask for a team already missing two strike bowlers and an experienced opener. Both Ryan Sidebottom and Moin Ashraf have hurt hamstrings and missed Yorkshire's match against Lions, while Australia's Phil Jaques, who opens the batting for them, suspects he may have a torn hip flexor.
They could have had one more down too. Azeem Rafiq appeared to hurt his finger against Lions, when he leapt for a catch that ended up being a boundary. He left the field and for one ball, Yorkshire did not have anyone else to do their substitute fielding, because Eddie Wilson was already on for Jaques. Their coach Jason Gillespie had to get on the park and admitted to having "sweaty palms," as he rolled back the years.
Injuries have affected Yorkshire more than other teams, primarily because the CLT20 has come at the end of a long county season. "We start with pre-season in March and this year we actually had an extra six weeks of cricket," Gale said.
With wear and tear starting to show, Yorkshire had to use rookie quick Oliver Hannon-Dalby against Lions, even though he was not due to feature in the competition at all. "To make your 20-over debut in the Champions League is not an easy thing to do," Gale said. Hannon-Dalby took 1 for 35 in the match at the Wanderers, in which Yorkshire ran the Lions close.
Despite scoring a below-par 131 for 7, Yorkshire's bowlers made life difficult for the local batsmen and Lions only reached the victory target with four balls remaining. "We thought we were 20 runs short and 150 would have been a winning total but we did well to take it that far," Gale said.
It was more than what Yorkshire managed against Sydney, where they hobbled to 96 for 9 in Cape Town, and the fight they showed in Johannesburg was heartening for Gale. "We would have liked to compete against Sydney, so to lose the way we did there was disappointing," he said. "It was nice that our bowlers got a good start against the Lions. It was always going to be difficult to defend but we did well."
After Yorkshire beat Uva Next and 2009 finalists Trinidad and Tobago comprehensively in the qualifiers, perhaps more was expected of them. They entered the tournament determined to make a good impression for English cricket as a whole, especially since they may be the last county to play in it. With the CLT20 causing too much re-scheduling to the English domestic season, the ECB have already announced their intention not to send any teams to next year's event.
Even though his team did not set the tournament alight, Gale said they will take a lot out of it. "This has been a really good experience for us and we have loved every minute of it. For some of the young guys in our squad, it was wonderful to be a part of."
Having lost to both the group's semi-finalists, Gale was also in a good position to comment on who he thought could go all the way. "I think Sydney are the team to watch out for, they have got all their bases covered," Gale said, adding that Lions would have to up their game if they hope to reach the final. "The Lions should have won at a canter against us but they had a really nervy start. Just listening to their captain, they will need to have that much extra to win in the knockouts."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent