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September 15, 2013
Faisalabad Wolves may not be the strongest team on paper in Pakistan but like any team from the country, they are high on surprise value. Only the second team from Pakistan to qualify for the Champions League, Faisalabad's participation was in the dark until recently before they were given a go-ahead for their visas to play in India.
How they qualified: In-form captain Misbah-ul-Haq inspired a low-profile team to play upto their potential to win the national title by beating the powerful Sialkot Stallions, in the final of the Faysal Bank Super Eight T20 Cup. They were not the best team in the tournament but they put their performances together as a unit in the thriller against Lahore Lions in the semi-final.
Strengths: Faisalabad is laden with youngsters and a couple of experienced international stalwarts in Misbah and Saeed Ajmal. Two seamers - Ehsan Adil and Asad Ali - are currently on a run to establish themselves for the national team with Asad understood to be the best man with the ball in the squad. The Faisalabad bowling line-up, led by the wily Ajmal, has depth and tends to restrict opponents. Ali Waqas and Asif Ali are the backbone of the batting line-up.
Watch out for: Asif Ali, a batsman with composure, has the ability to make any total on the board look humble. His 70 in the final of the Faysal Bank T20 cup won him five awards: most stylish player, most fours, most sixes, best scorer, and the Man of the Match.
How they qualified: In some ways, the cancellation of the Sri Lanka Premier League may have done Kandurata a favour. Instead of splitting the local talent into eight teams, the best Twenty20 players on the island were concentrated in four squads for the hurriedly-scheduled Super Fours Tournament. This meant four of Sri Lanka's frontline T20 players ended up in the side, with a cast of fringe internationals and domestic stalwarts for support. Their win in the final of the tournament ensured their qualification for the Champions League.
Strengths: Sangakkara, Upul Tharanga, Lahiru Thirimanne, Nuwan Kulasekara and Ajantha Mendis are all part of the squad that has played a lot of international and domestic cricket together and despite Kandurata not having played much cricket as a team, the players' familiarity with each other and the transitory nature of T20s makes makes them a strong contender for the next stage of the tournament
Watch out for: Ajantha Mendis - whose tricks remain undiminished in the shortest format - poses a significant slow-bowling threat.
The winners of the HRV Cup, New Zealand's domestic T20 competition, prepared for the Champions League T20 by playing four T20 matches in Sri Lanka over eight days and winning all of them. What they would want to forget would be the first season of the Champions League (2009), which they qualified for but lost both their matches.
How they qualified: Otago were the best side in the HRV Cup taking the title after 10 consecutive wins. They lost only their first match and then remained unscathed till the end. In the final, against Wellington, they dismissed three of the top four opposition batsmen for ducks and chased down 144 easily with nine balls to spare.
Strengths: Oppositions will be wary of Otago's batting as they posted high scores throughout the HRV Cup, their average score being 173, and scored under 150 only once - in the final. Their highest score was 204 and they finished in the 190s on three other occasions. To add to that, they scored 258 for 5 in a Champions League warm-up match against Mohali XI on September 15. Their bowling also cannot be taken lightly as the top two wicket-takers of the HRV Cup, Nick Beard and Jacob Duffy, were from Otago.
Watch out for: Ryan ten Doeschate, their highest run-scorer, finished second overall in the tournament with 401 runs at an average of 50.12 and strike rate of 154.23. Apart from him, Otago have the services of other international stars such as the McCullum brothers, and Neil Broom, who scored two fifties in the recent matches in Sri Lanka.
How they qualified: Sunrisers finished fourth in IPL 2013, two points ahead of Royal Challengers Bangalore, winning their do-or-die last league game by five wickets against Kolkata Knight Riders. Their loss to Rajasthan Royals in the eliminator meant they would have to fight for a place in the tournament proper with three other teams.
Strengths: On paper, Sunrisers have an all-round squad with batsmen like Shikhar Dhawan, Cameron White, JP Duminy, two allrounders in Darren Sammy and Thisara Perera, and among the bowlers, Dale Steyn, Amit Mishra and the latest hat-trick man Clint McKay.
Watch out for: Even though no Sunrisers batsman finished in the top 20 run-scorers in the IPL, man-in-form Dhawan will be their marquee player as he will also lead the side. Duminy is also in sublime form and no matter what the format, who can forget Steyn?
With inputs from Andrew Fidel Fernando and Umar Farooq
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