The first of this season’s Champions League T20 semi-finals gets underway in Kingsmead on Thursday (4.30pm BST) as Delhi Daredevils square up to Highveld Lions, one of the two remaining South African sides left in this competition.
The Daredevils are the only IPL team to make it to the semis and their unbeaten record sees them as favourites going into this match.
Delhi have looked to be the strongest side in the Champions League since the tournament began and they are rightful favourites to progress to Sunday’s final. However, the Lions have also been impressive in winning three from four so far and with the added benefit of playing on familiar South African surfaces, this is a tough game to predict.
One of Delhi’s strengths lies in the fact that they haven’t needed to rely on just one or two players in the way that some sides have. Their squad is packed with star names such as skipper Mahela Jayawardene and England’s Kevin Pietersen but in their first match against Kolkata Knight Riders, their batting hero was Unmunkt Chand, a relatively unknown 19 year old who top scored in his side’s total of 160/8.
Similarly, when it came time for Delhi to bowl, all eyes were on the overseas import Morne Morkel but the best figures were returned by India’s Umesh Yadav. All of the Daredevils’ star names could be vital to the outcome of this match but it’s that ability for others to take responsibility when needed that could give them the edge in this semi-final.
As for the Lions, they were largely unfancied at the beginning of this tournament as an ageing side who would struggle against the perceived stronger teams. However, the experience of individuals has paid off and Neil McKenzie in particular has been a vital part of his side’s success.
McKenzie is a one day specialist who may not be the biggest hitter in world cricket, but he is an intelligent player who can guide the ball to unusual and unprotected areas on the field. If the Lions are to succeed then McKenzie simply has to hit his best form.
There have been other useful contributions but the form of skipper Alviro Petersen will be a concern. Petersen is South Africa’s current test opener but his poor performances here include a first ball duck against Chennai and he needs to improve at the top of the order.
The Lions bowling attack has been led by left arm spinner Aaron Phangiso who, at 28, isn’t going to be known as the find of the tournament but it’s a little surprising that he has yet to receive any international recognition. Phangiso will need more support than he gets at times but he remains the main threat to Delhi’s batsmen in this match.
It could be a closely contested game but Delhi have looked so strong from the outset that it’s hard to see anything else other than a comfortable victory for the Daredevils and a passage into this season’s Champions League Final.