The Telegraph
Tuesday , October 16 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahmood, the master

Brendon McCullum, in action, on Monday

Cape Town: The Auckland Aces, one of the qualifiers, are proving to be the joker in the pack as far as the Champions League T20 is concerned. And the Kolkata Knight Riders, the IPL champions, are making a joke out of their reputation.

In the Group A clash on Monday, the Knights were thrashed by seven wickets. A fair result. Chasing the 138-run target, the New Zealand side needed just 17.4 overs to notch up a very impressive victory.

The Knights made all the wrong moves on the day. The Aces, played their cards perfectly.

Firstly, Gautam Gambhir’s decision to opt for Shakib-al Hasan in place of Brett Lee was suicidal. Dropping an experienced pacer for a spinner under overcast conditions was like picking a pen-knife to cut a rock.

Then, having won the toss and electing to bat, the Knights failed make the most of it. They were, at least, 25 runs short of the ideal total. The failure of Gambhir, who played a stellar role in the IPL-V triumph, cost the team. Manoj Tiwary, who top-scored in the Delhi DareDevils match, got out first ball and that didn’t help either.

To sum it up, it would be right to say that extremely poor body language made the Knights the losers even before they actually lost the match.

But to say that the Aces won just because the Knights faltered would be half the truth.

Veteran all-rounder Azhar Mahmood almost single-handedly won the match for his side. Having taken three wickets conceding just 16 runs, the former Pakistan player hit an unbeaten 42-ball 51 batting at the crucial No.3 spot. The other Aces batsmen — Martin Guptill (25), Lou Vincent (30) and Anaru Kitchen (24) — too chipped in with useful contributions to make the work easier.

With this loss, the route to the semi-finals became steeper for the Knights. They have two more matches, against the Perth Scorchers and the Titans, and they cannot afford to lose any of them.

Speaking about the Knights’ batting… Gambhir, Brendon McCullum, Jacques Kallis, Manoj and Shakib vs Kyle Mills, Michael Bates, Andre Adams, Ronnie Hira and Mahmood… On paper, it looked like a child’s play for the Knights’ batsmen. On the field, however, childish batting from the Gambhirs meant that 137 for six was all that they could get.

Overcast and windy conditions made the job difficult for batting. The Aces started the proceedins with the unpredictable Mills and left-armer Bates, who extracted considerable swing from the Newlands track. Having said that, one must also add that it was certainly not unplayable.

The Knight captain lasted just nine deliveries before misreading Bates’ swing and providing a leading edge to Guptill who took a gem of a catch.

But opener Manvinder Bisla and No. 3 McCullum exhibited steady hands, picking up runs as and when available. Bisla was the more attacking of the two. Till he got out, in the 9th over, the IPL-V final hero took just 24 balls to slam 38 runs. He had six boundaries and a six against his name.

As Bisla fell, caught by Anaru Kitchen off Ronnie Hira, little did one know that from 72 for two, the Knights would plunge to 72 for four. Do not ask how and why, because those two words are unofficially banned from the T20 cricket lexicon. The experienced Kallis nicked one to the ’keeper and, in the very next ball, the dependable Manoj offered a return catch to the bowler. The bowler? The wily Mahmood.

After such hara-kiri, it was only too obvious for the Knights to lose their way. And they did that with professional efficiency. Exceptions were not the order of the day.

McCullum carried on for a little bit longer, scoring 40 off 35 balls. But the rest were never in the destructive mode that one associates with T20 cricket. Rather, they were the ones destroyed, fighting for survival in the middle. But make no mistake, the Aces bowling attack is no bombing squad. It’s just that the Knights made them look so.

Only 26 runs were scored between the 10th and the 15th overs and that was criminal.

Yusuf Pathan swung the bat like a mace, but he was never menacing. His unbeaten 22 off 19 balls was ordinary, just like the Knights’ total. The game was actually over in the 10th over when Mahmood bowled a wicket-maiden. You don’t win T20 matches when you concede a wicket-maiden to an all-rounder.