New South Wales, the champions of Australia's Big Bash, were the first team from Group B to secure passage, with points carried forward, to the second round of the Champions League. They did so by showing tremendous adaptability in both their matches on slow Delhi pitches with low bounce. Phillip Hughes and Moises Henriques quickly assessed what a competitive total would be on such a surface - only 130 was needed today - and their bowlers, fast and spin alike, bowled a dangerous stump-to-stump line, snuffing out Sussex's chase with early wickets and extremely few Powerplay runs.
The game was won for NSW during the 90-run partnership between Hughes and Henriques. Hughes played the patient innings while Henriques used the long handle to telling effect. Both batsmen reached half-centuries but, despite being extremely well set, were unable to provide the slog-over thrust needed to take the total towards 150. That they were unable to do so was more an indictment of how difficult batting was on this surface than a criticism of their power-hitting skills.
Just how tough Sussex's chase would be was evident in Brett Lee's opening over of the chase. Bowling fast and straight, Lee pitched one on a length: the ball stayed low, ripped through Ed Joyce's defence, and crashed into the middle of off stump. The total of 130 had suddenly grown in stature.
NSW's innings was in strife at 40 for 2 and they had reached only 50 at the half-way stage when the acceleration came. Hughes hit the first six in the 11th over, muscling Piyush Chawla with a flat bat over long off, and Henriques, who was dropped at cover a few balls later, struck the second, slog-sweeping over deep midwicket. NSW took 17 runs off the 11th over and appeared to be back on track. Henriques had struck three sixes during his cameo against the Eagles and began to do a repeat, launching Rory Hamilton-Brown over extra cover and clearing the long-on boundary off James Kirtley.
The batsmen scored 45 runs between overs 10 and 15 and, with eight wickets in hand, a score of 150 was probable. There were no boundaries in the last four overs, though, the most eventful delivery being the beamer from Dwayne Smith that crashed into the wicketkeeper's helmet, and NSW had to settle for less.
It isn't often that a team scores merely 130 in a Twenty20 match despite having eight wickets in the bank but it was that sort of a pitch. It got lower and slower as the day wore on; the batsmen struggled to find timing and had to stay vigilant to keep out the occasional shooter. Robin Martin-Jenkins' first delivery of the match set the tone as it thudded into the bottom of David Warner's bat. The Sussex bowlers rarely wavered from the straight-and-narrow line, hoping they would hit if the batsmen misjudged the pace and bounce. It was a method NSW's attack would implement with success.
After Brett Lee's searing opening spell of 2-1-3-1, which included Joyce's wicket, Doug Bollinger and Henriques kept the batsmen quiet. Sussex had scored only 26 off the Powerplay and, so when Simon Katich gave the ball to Steven Smith as soon as the fielding restrictions were lifted, Rory Hamilton-Brown charged the young legspinner immediately. He advanced and swung across the line but was beaten by flight and turn, leaving Daniel Smith with an easy stumping.
The chase was floundering at 26 for 2 and Dwayne Smith adopted a similar approach against Steven Smith. He swiped repeatedly across the line and was beaten. He eventually connected and sent the ball rapidly to the long-on boundary but Sussex needed him to contribute substantially. However, on a pitch that needed batsmen to remain watchful and balanced, Dwayne Smith moved towards leg to manufacture room to guide Bollinger to third man. He missed and was bowled. Sussex's bad situation grew worse when Henriques struck with successive deliveries to reduce them to 64 for 5 and it became dire when two more fell with the score on 68.
Henriques ended an excellent match by dismissing Andy Hodd and finished with figures of 3 for 23 to go with his match-winning half-century.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo