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CLT20 Staff in Johannesburg,

Emphasis is on preparation: Hopkins

Auckland Aces skipper says doing well in CLT20 2012 is important to his team

The Auckland Aces were up against an unknown beast when they landed in India last year to play in the CLT20 2011 Qualifiers. It was their first away assignment as a team and they had to deal with tough Indian conditions before taking on their opponents on the field. The adventure didn’t last long and they failed to make the main tournament. But they’re back; this time in South Africa, with a lot more preparation under their belt and a stronger belief.

Having come to the Rainbow Nation a good three weeks before the Qualifiers start, the Aces have left no stone unturned to give themselves a shot at the biggest T20 prize – the Champions League Twenty20.

“This time around we’re putting a lot of emphasis on preparation”, said Aces skipper, Gareth Hopkins, in a media gathering. “We’ve been here for some time now. We’ve got magnificent facilities and have played more games than what we had at the same time last year.

“We’re coming from winter and so haven’t played a game as a team since the last six months. So it was very important for us to get some games before going into this tournament.”

The Aces are in the same group as the Sialkot Stallions and England T20 champions, Hampshire. Hopkins is wary of the surprise factor the team from Pakistan will bring with them but is confident of dealing with it with the help of ex-Pakistan player Azhar Mahmood.

“We’ve not seen much of the Sialkot Stallions apart from some players who we saw during the recent World T20. Fortunately, we’ve got Azhar Mahmood in our side who knows their players quite well.”

Mahmood, who travels the world as a freelance cricketer, played a crucial role in getting the Auckland Aces a place in the CLT20 2012 Qualifiers with some match-winning performances in the HRV Cup.

Hopkins has nothing but words of praise for the experienced all-rounder. “Azhar’s a great guy. He came to us last year, won us a few games and was a big part of our success. He fits into our team culture very easily. He brings vast experience and knowledge of cricket and is more than happy to help all our young players with technique and tactics,” the captain said.

Another significant addition to the Aces camp former Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak. It was Aces coach Paul Strang who roped in his former teammate to add value with his knowledge of South African conditions.

Strang said, “Heath has been a great addition. He knows the conditions and speaks the local language. We’ve tried to build our coaching staff with people who understand African conditions. We have Mark O’Donnell who used to coach and play in this part of the world, and both have been of great value already.”

While the limelight is often on the grander, star-studded IPL teams, it is teams like the Auckland Aces who stand to gain maximum from a tournament like the CLT20. Their 2011 failure had hurt them deep and the men from New Zealand are keen to make their presence felt this year.

“This tournament means a lot”, Hopkins said, revealing how the CLT20 acts as a source of motivation to New Zealand’s domestic teams. “The teams strive to win the domestic T20 competition back home to play in this tournament. We’re fortunate enough to be in it.

He added, “As a team, first and foremost we’re representing New Zealand domestic cricket and have a responsibility to do well and showcase our strengths as a nation. Secondly, the players know that by doing well here they’ll be noticed by the national selectors and maybe some IPL teams as well. So, it is hugely important.”

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