Cape Town farewells the Champions League
After seven matches in the space of just under a week, the Champions League road show left Cape Town after the Kolkata Knight Riders' annihilation of the Titans at Newlands on Sunday evening.
With no chance of progressing, and thus under no pressure to win, Kolkata played like the IPL champions that they are. Twenty-six boundaries took them to 188 for 5, the highest score of the tournament. A successful run-chase would have secured a semi-final berth for the Titans, but under pressure to perform they wilted meekly, and - if the Auckland Aces beat the Perth Scorchers - will have to beat the Delhi Daredevils on Tuesday to be sure of their place. Indeed, three of the four teams playing on Tuesday are still in the running for the semis.
If it all sounds a little complicated, that's because it is. Calculations and permutations aside, the Titans batted like a side without a gameplan for chasing so many runs. They attempted to adopt Kolkata's which, barring a brief and inexplicable mid-innings slump, had been to smoke anything that moved.
The decision backfired spectacularly, as the Titans simply don't have the explosive power of Manvinder Bisla or Brendon McCullum in their top order and couldn't find a middle gear. On a pitch showing signs of fatigue, Lakshmipathy Balaji ripped the heart out of their middle order as batsmen either poked indecisively or slashed wildly. Incredibly, the Titans managed to string together 49 dot balls - seven more than their opposition - despite batting only 16.4 overs.
The Titans' capitulation did at least give the ground's pyrotechnics technicians the chance to set off all the leftover fireworks that had been procured for the week's festivities. Multi-coloured peonies, diadems and crossettes accompanied by a series of gunpowder booms brought an end to the Champions League's involvement with the most picturesque of South Africa's cricket grounds - although the famous Table Mountain was obscured by a table cloth of cloud during almost every game.
Sunday's matches were the only ones scheduled for a weekend, and despite the dodgy weather forecast these games should have been marquee clashes for a city which hasn't seen international cricket since the third Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka in January. In the event, they were certainly the most well-attended of any of the Champions League matches hosted in Cape Town, though only one of the games lived up to its top billing, and it wasn't the one featuring the IPL champions.
Five thousand tickets had been sold ahead of Monday's game, while attendances for Tuesday and Thursday's matches were also in the thousands. Twelve thousand tickets were sold before Sunday's matches even began, and by the time the toss for the first match, between the Perth Scorchers and the Delhi Daredevils, had taken place a long, snaking queue of late arrivals had formed in front of the main ticket office. No-one went home disappointed, and the ground wasn't quite stretched to its 25,000 capacity.
These games were marketed as double-headers which brought twice the entertainment and gave value for money. But the scheduling wasn't quite right. Schoolkids couldn't get to the early games, apart from on Sunday, and it's exam season for the University of Cape Town students who usually fill the grass banks.
With Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils in town, however, there were a good number of Indian fans to fill their places. Among them were two busloads of sailors from the Indian Navy, stationed at the naval barracks in Simon's Town, near Cape Town. Indeed, there was a very strong Indian presence throughout the stands and the grassbanks with flags of both IPL teams' colours and the saffron, white and green of India.
"It's amazing," Delhi captain Mahela Jayawardene remarked after his side's game. "I saw all the blue flags. We've got KP, we've got Morne [Morkel], a lot of the Indian boys are very popular over here as well, and that probably covers all aspects. Wherever we've gone we've had great support, and I hope it continues. It's good for the game. This is a franchise-based thing, like a football champions league and you have your favourite teams and they'll come and support you, which is great."
If anything, support for Kolkata was more fervent than it had been for Delhi, despite the fact that the Daredevils were flying the flag as the only subcontinental team still in the running in the tournament and Kolkata had nought but pride to play for. Both sets of supporters - and there was a significant intersection among them - had something to cheer.
And so the circus moves on. Journey's Don't Stop Believin' belted out of the ground's PA as it emptied of people after the games. With the business end of this tournament swiftly approaching, there's still cause to heed that message.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town