The crowd at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium did not have a home team to support in the first part of the Saturday double-header but those who bothered to show up certainly got their money's worth, thanks to a wonderful display of power hitting by the Champions League's first centurion, Andrew Puttick, and later by Justin Ontong. After upstaging Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Cape Cobras booked themselves into the second round with a solid performance in the field to back their batsmen, who piled on 193. Otago barely dominated any passage of play during their chase and fell 54 short of the mark.
Both teams went into the game with seven international players each. Otago looked the more formidable, but only on paper. As is turned out, Otago were caught woefully short on the batting department. The fortunes of both teams after 10.1 overs told the story - the Cobras were at 79 for 2; Otago made the same number of runs but lost, crucially, three more wickets. Save for a brief cameo from Nathan McCullum, a Cobras victory was inevitable.
Perhaps the best formula to draw in the crowds to support teams with plenty of unknowns is to prepare a road of a pitch and allow the batsmen the license to whack. It was a pity in the context of the game that Otago failed to match that total, but Puttick certainly made it a game to remember, not just for himself. Punters would have placed bets on one of the national stars to notch up a century but Puttick grabbed the headlines instead.
He relied more on power rather than timing to fetch his boundaries. He set the tone by slashing Neil Wagner past slip and flicking the same bowler off his pads in the opening over of the match. With the ball coming on to the bat, the pair of Puttick and JP Duminy willfully chipped down the track to unsettle the lengths of the seamers. Length deliveries were punched down the ground and Nathan McCullum's was smothered and slogged, even as he tried to vary his length and flight.
It didn't take long for the Cobras to realise that hitting through the line was the order of the day. As the innings wore on, the Cobras brought out their paddle scoops and stylish flicks to toy with the inexperienced Otago attack. Otago could learn a thing or two from the England international Dimitri Mascarenhas, who managed a wicket-maiden and changed his pace cleverly to another, that of Herschelle Gibbs.
It was just a matter of seeing off Mascarenhas before launching into the rest. Puttick favoured the wide long-on boundary for his big hits. Nathan, Craig Cumming and Ian Butler looked back only to see the ball sail over the ropes. A four down to deep midwicket brought up his fifty but little did Otago know that his job was only half done at that point.
Puttick was particularly harsh on Butler, smacking 32 off 14 balls and then taking Neil Wagner for 27 off 16. Considering that they were the quickest of the lot, it was easy for Puttick to use the pace and launch the ball to all parts. When Puttick swooped Butler over midwicket, the smile on his face indicated just how much he enjoyed batting in the middle, possibly in the form of his life. It was a fortunate twist of fate since he wasn't included in the original squad and came in after Graeme Smith's pull-out. He was beaming again when he squeezed out a full delivery by Wagner to bring up a boundary to third man, and his century.
After Duminy and Rory Kleinveldt holed out trying to clear the boundary, Ontong came out to biff four sixes in his 39 that entertained the crowd. Otago leaked 121 runs off the last ten overs - a stat which decided which way the match was headed.
Otago invested probably two of their best local batsmen right at the top to get them off to a flier. Brendon McCullum and Aaron Redmond made an encouraging start with some power hitting through the off side but the joy was short-lived. Redmond fell slashing to third man and Brendon perished for 21, failing to make his ground while attempting a second run. Two further run-outs before the tenth over dented them further.
Nathan McCullum gave Cobras a minor scare when he picked Ontong for three consecutive boundaries. However, he got a little too cheeky against Kleinveldt when a paddle scoop went straight to short fine leg. Kleinveldt picked up three wickets as Otago threw their bats around at everything and folded up with 17 balls to spare.
The mismatch notwithstanding, Puttick's performance was more than just an appetiser for the second game, between the home side Deccan Chargers and Somerset.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo