Hopkins 'bitterly disappointed' at not making semis
Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins' final Champions League Twenty20 press conference was over. There were no further questions from the small media contingent and all that was left was for him to get up and leave the room. "I'd like to just one say more thing," Hopkins said. "Everyone that we have met here in South Africa has been really hospitable and made us feel very welcome. We've had a great time, thank you."
It is rare that an engagement with reporters ends like that. But for the duration of Auckland's stay in South Africa - which reached one month yesterday - that is how they have conducted themselves. They have been affable, courteous and genuinely excited about being part of the event, even though when they arrived, they weren't guaranteed a place in the main draw.
As soon as the qualifiers began, it was obvious that Auckland would be strong contenders, if not the best side of the six. Theirs were the only batsmen who looked at home in the pacy and bouncy conditions, testament to the time they spent training in the country from September 22. When they beat Kolkata Knight Riders in their first match of the main draw, the fairytale did not seem to have an end. But it did, and it was not a happy one.
Auckland lost heavily to Titans, had a washout against Delhi Daredevils and came off second-best to a wounded Perth Scorchers side. Both their defeats could be blamed on the bat. Every time Auckland found themselves under pressure, they struggled to come up for air.
"I'm not going to make excuses for our batting," Hopkins said. "Our No.5 batsman and further down only batted twice in five games but there are no excuses. We are good enough. One thing I will say about today is that we should have learnt from how Perth played. Their batters took a bit of time to get in. With us losing wickets continually, it was very hard to score at seven or eight runs an over."
Still, their regret was not falling over the final hurdle but leaving it for the last to jump over it. Hopkins pinned their bowing out before the knockouts on the match against Titans in Durban. Auckland were bowled out for 113 in pursuit of 173. "That game did hurt us. We thought the score was about par but we can look back and say we could have done better there," he said. "It's about isolating every game. You have to treat every game as a final."
That was the way Auckland approached the preliminary round but seemed to lose a bit of that intensity against tougher opposition. "If we look back in a few years we'd probably say that making the main draw was good," Hopkins said. "But given our position and the belief in the team at the moment, we believed we could make the semis and then the final. We're bitterly disappointed."
Despite their obvious sadness, Hopkins was able to smile through it to point out some of the positives. "Winning was definitely a highlight," he said. "I enjoyed seeing my mates' successes on the park - things like Azhar Mahmood's innings against Hampshire and the team performance against Kolkata. That was one particularly sweet because they beat us off the last ball in the qualifiers last year so we got our own back this time. We were really happy with that."
Auckland were by some distance one of the teams, and the only qualifier, to hold their own at times - delightful as Yorkshire were, they were also outplayed much more. And for that, the Champions League can claim success over their much criticised format and structure.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent