New South Wales overwhelm Eagles
After a smorgasbord of hitting in Bangalore, the ball dominated proceedings in the first game of a Friday double-header in Delhi. Simon Katich followed his decision to bat with some sparkling strokeplay and though Eagles hit back in the last seven overs a total of 144 proved more than enough. Arguably the strongest bowling attack in the tournament, spearheaded by Brett Lee and backed up by the accurate Stuart Clark, blitzed the Eagles who limped to 91 - the lowest Twenty20 score at the Feroz Shah Kotla - thanks largely to Ryan McLaren's 40.
Katich took one look at "a typical wicket without a blade of grass" and decided to bat, and found himself in early after Philip Hughes missed an ugly heave. Katich relied on timing instead of force, taking three fours off Dillon du Preez: not one shot was crude, yet each raced away to the boundary after being struck with superb wristwork and placement. Ryan McLaren was welcomed with a drive through extra cover and an effortless six off Katich's pads; again, these shots were unique for their placement rather than ferocity.
It was an approach David Warner struggled to adopt, swinging and missing regularly. He managed three fours in one over off Shadley van Schalkwyk in which he peppered the long-on, deep cover and midwicket boundaries, but his timing was nowhere as fluent as Katich's. Thandi Tshabalala's offspin and Ryan Bailey's slow-medium deliveries slowed the pace and accounted for Warner's wicket, a result of his frustration.
From here the Eagles fielded with vigour and took all but one of the chances that came their way, never letting their tempo slip. A six off Tshabalala took Katich past 50 in 37 balls but he fell soon after Warner, chipping van Schalkwyk to long-off. Bailey continued to tie down the batsmen, allowing just ten runs in his four overs without conceding a boundary. Tshabalala's figures were spoiled by two sixes from Moises Henriques, who looked capable of taking the score past 150 but fell in the 18th over to a good catch at backward point. NSW proceeded to lose two wickets in two balls and finished with 144.
The Eagles' task was made all the more difficult when Brett Lee got hold of the new ball. Finding a little bit of swing, and good pace and accuracy, he got Rilee Roussow with a full ball in front of leg stump in the opening over. Adrian McLaren responded with a couple of brusque boundaries off Doug Bollinger but was run out when Katich threw down the stumps from mid-on and wickets kept falling to peg the Eagles' ambitions back. Morne van Wyk picked out short midwicket with a cross-batted shot to Stuart Clark's first ball, Boeta Dippenaar chipped to mid-off, Dean Elgar danced down and was stumped off Nathan Hauritz, and when Katich ran out Bailey, the Eagles had slumped to 36 for 6.
The Eagles weren't finished just yet. Ryan McLaren took up the cudgels with a massive six off Steve Smith and a delicate paddle for four off Lee, but also had to farm the strike to shield the tail - and that's not exactly easy in Twenty20 cricket. Clark never let the foot off the gas and capped an excellent evening with 3 for 12 from four overs, featuring masterful changes of pace and length, so key to this format.
Katich followed a fine effort with the bat by effecting two direct hits and taking a catch, as NSW showed why they are one of the favourites. Unlike their fellow South African representatives Cape Cobras, the Eagles pulled well below their weight against a formidable attack and slick fielding.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo