One shouldn’t read too much into the qualifying games of the CLT20 since they are played just to determine who proceeds to the main round of the event. However, from what has been on show, it must be said that the T20 squad from New Zealand, Otago, have been highly brilliant in the qualifiers. They have won all three of their qualifying games and progressed to the main tournament with ease. The most impressive aspect of Otago’s performance has been that they have all the matches with a great amount of dominance.
In their opening qualifier, they thrashed Faisalabad Wolves by 8 wickets, against Kandurata Maroons, they won by six wickets chasing a challenging target. Finally, they beat the toughest of all the opponents, Sunrisers Hyderabad by five wickets in the inconsequential last game. Although both Sunrisers and Otago have made it further in the tournament, Otago can take a lot of confidence into the event having won three out of three qualifying matches. Also, they will hold some brownie points if and when they face Sunrisers in the tournament again.
As it happens when any team is winning, there have been plenty of excellent performances from Otago in the qualifying games. Their charge has been spearheaded by their skipper Brendon McCullum, who has been their best batsmen so far. McCullum smashed a wonderful unbeaten 83 off 65 balls against Wolves. Though he failed against Maroons, he came back with a bang against Sunrisers, putting together another brilliant innings –an unbeaten 69 off 35, which completed a hat-trick of victories for Otago. It is no secret that McCullum is among the most destructive batsmen in T20 cricket. Having said that, he hasn’t quite tapped his potential at this level yet. Otago would hope he takes his great form into games that matter.
Even as McCullum has been Otago’s best batsman, he got decent support from the rest, who came up with useful knocks over the course of the three matches. Ryan ten Doeschate came up with a sizzling all-round performance against Kandurata, blasting 64 from 32 balls and also grabbing 2 for 9 in the same game. Among the other Neil Broom, Hamish Rutherford, Derek de Boorder and James Neesham, all of them have spent time out in the middle to prepare themselves for bigger challenges. If anything, Otago would want them to carry on and make greater scores.
The bowling from Otago has also been incisive so far. Ian Butler picked up two wickets in the first game and three in the second. James McMillan also picked up three wickets from two games. Neil Wagner, apart from grabbing a wicket in each of the matches, also kept the runs down. James Neesham also made an impression either by picking up wickets or restricting the batsmen. Crucially, while Nathan McCullum went wicketless in the first two matches, he roared back with figures of 2 for 23 in the win against Sunrisers. They are plenty of positives for Otago from the qualifiers. They would be disappointed if they don’t putup a good show in the main event.
--By A Cricket Analyst