"I thought this was going to be my last game," said Murali Kartik after our dramatic victory against the Warriors from Port Elizabeth, which propelled us into the semi-final of the Nokia CLT20. But no, we've done it again and beaten what was regarded by everyone as possibly the strongest team in the competition. Murali and I laughed, a little nervously, as we took another swig from our bottles of beer, the reality slowly dawning on us that we are through to the semi finals. It's so difficult to tell in this format. You simply have no idea who is going to come to the party and how players are going to respond.
Surprise package: We arrived in India a fortnight ago with a youthful team lacking our captain, Marcus Trescothick and our two internationals, Craig Kiewsetter and Jos Buttler. We beat Auckland in a thriller and then promptly demolished the Kolkata Knight Riders in a double header. This was followed by a bit of a wobble when the almighty Chris Gayle put us to the sword (not the first time and definitely not the last) and now, here I am sitting in another hotel room in Chennai, and taking big deep breaths at the thought that we will be facing the mighty Mumbai Indians in the semi-final to be played on Saturday! Chennai turns out not to have the leafy, cool climate of Bangalore, where we were lapping up the down time in a seven star hotel. Arriving off the plane we were hit by a suffocating heat and a smell that reminds me of wet dog. I'm not complaining, however. This is what makes this trip, these games and competing against top players from different parts of the world such an awesome experience. So how did this happen? How did we get to this point? It’s what a lot of people are asking. Given the strength of English cricket and its domestic structure and secondly the abundant talent in our team, I am beginning to realise this is no fluke. We're fitter and stronger, our energy in the field has been up there and our attitude and intelligent strategy can't be faulted. I spoke to The Warriors team analyst after our victory yesterday and she said: "Well done, you guys were absolutely spot on the way you worked us out and the way you bowled was phenomenal… you totally deserved it". I thought this was a fitting compliment to the way we analysed the conditions and executed our plans.
Timing: I personally thought Alfonso Thomas' leadership was brilliant. Twenty20 cricket is about timing, no doubt - timing when to attack, what ball to bowl, when to bowl the slower delivery and the bouncer and of course the timing of field placing. All these things come from an astute understanding of the game and a super sharp awareness. The timing of when he bowled certain bowlers yesterday was fantastic and having Murali Kartik perform the way he did was the key to our success against the Warriors. So I go back to how have we managed to get so far? I've already alluded to talent and a very well drilled side, but I have no doubt that decreased expectation and a game plan has done most of the work. Identified roles in the team and of course players doing well helps, but doing the simple things and having a good old 'crack' has made it all the more enjoyable. So as Kartik said, having very little expectations and coming here to enjoy the experience and play as if it is our last game is not what every psychologist would prescribe. Perhaps there is some method in that madness! Andy Hurry, our coach, was quick to identify where we went wrong against the Royal Challengers and we made sure we highlighted those areas and got back to what has worked well for us in the games leading up to it. Craig Kieswetter played with an increasingly growing maturity and Jos Buttler hit the biggest six of the tournament, so all bodes well going into Saturday's match. So there's no point getting too excited...of course Saturday will be our last match; I might as well go out there and have a bit of fun."
Published 7 October 2011