Lions v Mumbai, CLT20 2010, Johannesburg September 10, 2010

Lions reclaim lost loyalties

Initially Mumbai had the crowd's support, but by the end, by the sheer weight of their performance, the Lions were on the path to winning back the hearts their home fans

It could have been the mighty presence of Sachin Tendulkar or the effects of IPL branding, which has people from all corners sprouting loyalty to some of its teams. Either way, Mumbai Indians must have felt they were playing a home game in their Champions League Twenty20 opener on Friday night. Pity the wrong team won.

The Wanderers is by no means the Wankhede, the DY Patil or the Brabourne - for a start, those venues are usually full when Mumbai play - but it welcomed the IPL runners-up with open arms. A paltry 15,500 people turned up for the first match, less than half the stadium's capacity but most of them arrived united on one front - their support for Mumbai.

The reason? Apart from wanting to cheer stars, the truth is that it's been difficult being a Lions supporter in the past three seasons. Since winning the 2006/07 Standard Bank Pro20, the team has been in free-fall. They've finished last in five out of nine competitions including two MTN40s, two Pro20s and a SuperSport Series, and have finished in the top two of any competition only once. The once-mighty sporting province became known as the whipping boys of the local league and the running joke was that they should be renamed the kittens. Crowds in domestic competitions, which are scant anyway, have been even thinner at the Lions' den in recent times and the people of Johannesburg had all but lost interest in domestic cricket.

It should hardly be surprising that they didn't come out in droves or that those who did attend the match were there to see the other team. In some ways it was reminiscent of the Apartheid days when non-white supporters would attend rugby matches and cheer for New Zealand instead of the Springboks. This crowd had no political reasons to not get behind the home team, they simply saw something more attractive in the other side.

The Lions' batsmen started nervously and the needless confusion that led to Alviro Petersen's run-out may have resulted in moans of "much of the same" from those that know the Lions well. By the end of the sixth over, with the score on 39 for 2, the rustling restlessness of a group that sensed a collapse was obvious. Then, Harbhajan Singh came on to bowl and the Bullring shook to its core with delight at seeing another hero.

They hardly noticed Jonathan Vandiar redeem himself, after the race with Petersen to the same end, with his highest score in Twenty20s or the favourite son of the team, Neil McKenzie, scoring a classy, confident half-century. At the end of their innings, the Lions had done as much as they could. They had put their third highest total in the format, 186, on the board. It was the same score that helped them overcome the Titans in the semi-final of the Standard Bank Pro20 competition, and qualify for the CLT20. They had also reached the highest score against an IPL team in the CLT20's short history.

Ten minutes later, the Lions started back-pedalling so fast, they may have ended up in Durban. Bowling to Tendulkar was going to be no easy task and the Lions let the crowd indulge as the master marched on. Tendulkar survived a loud Ethan O'Reilly appeal and two run-out chances, and while he was on fire, the crowd lit up. They cheered his every move, praised his every run and worshipped each of his nine fours with their decibels. As long as he was at the crease there was no doubt about which team the Wanderers wanted to win.

Then, the tide started turning. The relatively unknown Shane Burger grabbed his Big Mac with all the extras when he deceived Tendulkar with a slower ball. The Lions had started to roar and the people couldn't help but join in. It might have been the spark they saw when Burger, fizzing like an exploding cold drink, beamed after sending Tendulkar on his way, opening the tiniest window of opportunity.

With four overs to go and Mumbai needing 47, a sequence of clapping and the chanting of "Lions" was heard from a small section of the crowd. They were being coaxed over. But, the first ball of Burger's next over was slapped for six by Kieron Pollard and the amateur cheer-leading subsided. A four and another six followed before Burger dished up the supersize version, a perfect yorker, to dismiss Pollard.

"Towards the end of the match, the crowd really got on our side," said Petersen and he was right. The bunch of people watching the last three overs appeared a completely different one from those who had seen the 37 before as they now suddenly remembered that they were on the Highveld supporting the Lions. Zander de Bruyn and Frylinck, who bowled in that period, got the best of it, but the message was clear: the Lions have put themselves on the path to winning back the hearts and minds of their own fans. Suddenly, it felt very good to be behind them.

Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Priyank on September 12, 2010, 4:08 GMT

    @ Fayss ....Okay, here is the REASON why England's domestic teams are not participating. (some scheduling problem) ... Well don't know about Pakistan.

  • Priyank on September 12, 2010, 3:54 GMT

    @ Fayss ...Exactly ! This is what I was wondering yesterday that why Pak, Eng & Bangladesh teams are not in this league. Does anyone know what is the procedure to decide that which domestic team can qualify / participate ?

  • Rohan on September 11, 2010, 15:42 GMT

    The only reason I even bother to watch rubbish like T20 is to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat. The moment he's out I change the channel to something less farcical.

  • Faisal on September 11, 2010, 14:17 GMT

    I failed to understand what kind of "champions trophy' is it??? Pakistan, the finalist of worldcup 2007, winners of 2009, and semi-finalist of 2010 has a very tough domestic side named 'Sialkot Stallions' and the other is 'Karachi Dolphins'. The other country England, the winner of latest 20 20 worldcup is not participating... they've got their winners as well...

    Two worldcup winning countries are out of the tournament and the remainder are fighting for champions trophy...!!! Any non-cricketing person would certainly gonna ask that which of these team's country actually won the latest worldcup... the answer would be INDIA but that was 3 years ago... and thats ridiculous

  • Mohd suhail on September 11, 2010, 10:32 GMT

    i really hope & pray that none of the indian franchises win anything in south africa. I am sick of the guys who cannot hit a ball when playing for india talk big in programmes & show they are a kind of superstars . God better saves indian cricket becoz none of the present generation cricketers are worried about their performance for the national team becoz they are getting money fame from ipl so do hell with country. How shame full........

  • nishantha on September 11, 2010, 9:35 GMT

    Well done to the 'lions ' and well played ! The better team on the day led by undoubtedly the better captain won . Tendulkar was woeful as captain . His inexplicable non use of Ryan Mclaren - one of the 4 overseas players in the team - in the team , mind you as a bowling all rounder in place of Dwayne Bravo was mind boggling to say the least , whilst the use of Satish and Duminy whose combined 2 overs cost 28 runs was equally questionable . Mumbai would have won the last IPL and done better in the first edition and also won yesterday if they had a different captain . Tendulkar may be a world class batsman but as a captain he is totally clueless and India were lucky that Ganguly took over from him as captain in 2001 and built the team for the likes of Kumble and Dhoni to carry on ..

  • Randika on September 11, 2010, 9:31 GMT

    Tendulkar is a competent bat but a good cricketing brain is a must to lead a team to victory. Any team to victory! Especially one consisting an entire assemblage of players bought in an auction with hardly any loyalties and geographic backdrop.

  • Dummy4 on September 11, 2010, 9:16 GMT

    good bating by sachin but more poor captainship by him... now toh i doubt k was this match fixed or wt ? sachin used his bowler worst .... as sachin wanted to make them more than 160 .. and they made more than tht ,,,, poor fielding and poor empiring tooo ..... after all match fixing money goes to every where frm board to empire,,,,,,so enjoy fixed match of champions trophy

  • Tom on September 11, 2010, 9:06 GMT

    In response to cricfan24. An inferior "Team" will often beat superior cricketers to use your own words. The difference between these two sides that counted is that one is a cricket team and the other is a business concern. And Mister Vice you make it sound as if the polite thing for the SA players to do is bow down in awe of their rivals, roll over and give them the victory, doesn't sound very competitive to me. Maybe you should try offering someone a 20 if you want the games to be played on reputation alone :P

  • Priyank on September 11, 2010, 9:01 GMT

    I'm looking forward to the next matches. Hope, Jayawardane, one of my favorite players, fires. And in 2nd match, it would be interesting to see how Dhoni's team plays against unseen players of Central District. I will not be surprised if C District wins. Never underestimate any team is what I have learnt :D

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