Lee stars in NSW's title triumph
Brett Lee starred with a stunning all-round performance as New South Wales beat Trinidad & Tobago to win the inaugural Champions League Twenty20, and with it a jackpot of US$ 2.5 million, in Hyderabad. The 41-run margin of victory, however, didn't mean it was a one-sided contest: T&T dominated initially, reducing NSW to 83 for 6, before Lee's fighting innings lifted his side to a competitive total. He then returned for a fiery spell with the new ball, jolting T&T's chase with two early wickets.
The match was won and lost in ten overs - the last five of the NSW innings and the first five of T&T's - and it was Lee who imposed himself on the game-breaking moments. The game had several subplots - the nervy collapse of both top orders, Ravi Rampaul's canny seam bowling, Steven Smith's sensible support act and the threat posed by Kieron Pollard - but the one that had the biggest impact was Lee's all-round contribution.
He walked in with NSW tottering and proceeded to slowly pull them out of the hole before shifting gears to propel them to a competitive score. It was almost the perfect counter punch. Lee's first priority was safety - he scored just 7 off 13 deliveries - but, knowing that meandering to a below-par total would be futile against an aggressive T&T team, he upped the ante with precise and powerful blows in the final overs.
Lee launched his assault in the 16th over against Lendl Simmons: the first delivery - a full toss - was swung over square-leg for six, the fourth was hit over long-on, and the last one carved to the cover boundary. From then on he repeatedly cleared the front leg and swung cleanly through the line. Navin Stewart disappeared over long-on and Sherwin Ganga was heaved over midwicket. Lee got support from Steven Smith, who did what was required: give the strike to Lee, try to pinch the occasional boundary, and ensure he didn't lose his wicket.
Lee was the last man out but wasn't done for the night. He returned to harass the T&T top order with pace, bounce and movement. He bowled the impetuous William Perkins with a full, fast and straight delivery and removed Lendl Simmons by taking a sharp return catch off a slower one. Stuart Clark, with his slower cutters, and Doug Bollinger, with his bounce from short of length, proceeded to strangle T&T's middle order and it was left to that man Pollard to try to do the improbable. And he nearly did.
Throughout this tournament, Pollard has batted like Lance Klusener did in the 1999 World Cup. No target seemed to be too much for him. Just like Klusener, he showed unbelievable composure: he started his innings calmly, dealing in singles, before he unleashed his own brand of razzmatazz. He pulled a free hit from Bollinger over midwicket, swung Nathan Hauritz over long-on and got the equation down to 47 from 31 balls when it happened. He went for another six off Hauritz but couldn't clear the boundary, and who else but Lee at long-on settled under the catch. With Pollard's exit, Trinidad's dream run came to a crushing halt, and they had to settle for second prize - US$ 1.3 million.
It ended with defeat, but the game had started splendidly for T&T. If NSW were to reach a huge total, their two hard-hitting openers had to contribute heavily but that didn't happen. T&T started with a spin-seam combination and Sherwin Ganga, the offspinner, bowled three overs in the Powerplay. David Warner opted to play a weak reverse sweep against him and nearly edged it back to the bowler. Warner did go on to thread a couple of boundaries on the off side but never looked in. Meanwhile the pressure told on his partner Phillip Hughes, who faced three balls in the first three overs, and fell, trying to slog-pull the impressive Ravi Rampaul.
While Sherwin Ganga was miserly, it was Rampaul who really shone with a fine display of canny seam bowling. He hit a full length, got the ball to cut both ways and built pressure. One moment captured his combative spirit perfectly: When Warner tried to impose himself with a crashing cover-drive, Rampaul fired in a sharp 140 kmph bouncer that flew past the startled batsman.
The chance for NSW to break free came in the fifth over bowled by Dwayne Bravo, who had leaked runs in the semi-final. Katich started off with a bottom-hand powered six over long-on but Warner fell in the same over, edging one to right of backward point where Dave Mohammed took a fine catch.
What followed was a nervy phase for NSW as one batsman after another fell to soft dismissals. Katich punched Bravo straight to mid-off, Moises Henriques swung a short delivery to fine-leg, Ben Rohrer pulled a long hop straight to deep midwicket, and Daniel Smith chopped a length delivery back on to his stumps. But Lee and Smith saved the day with some sensible batting before Lee returned with the ball to end T&T's dream.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo