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    CLT20 Qualifiers: Hyderabad, Kandurata favourites to go through

    With the visa row surrounding Pakistani representation buried, the Champions League Twenty20 is set to kick off its 2013 edition with the four-team qualifying stage starting Tuesday.

    For a while, political play threatened the participation of Pakistan's domestic Twenty20 champions Faisalabad Wolves - leaving the two spots for the main tournament to be decided between Sunrisers Hyderabad (SH), Kandurata Maroons (Sri Lanka) and Otago Volts (New Zealand). But timely intervention from the Prime Minister's Office of India facilitated Faisalabad's arrival on Indian soil.

    The Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) has been entrusted with the responsibility of hosting the Qualifiers at Mohali's PCA Stadium, and with winter winds arriving in north India, it's the best place to play cricket in October.

    The format is simple: all the four teams play each other once in a round-robin format, at the end of which the top two go through to the main tournament beginning September 21.

    On the face of it, Hyderabad and Kandurata look the best to place your bets on; but then these T20s are like derby, where the favourite doesn't always come first. That keeps Otago and Faisalabad in with a chance - despite appearing weaker in comparison to the other two.

    Sunrisers Hyderabad

    After an impressive IPL debut in a new avatar following the drama surrounding the now-defunct Deccan Chargers, the Hyderabad franchise - now owned by the Sun Network - easily looks the best of the four teams, both on paper and on the field.

    Hyderabad were made to wait on the participation of their skipper Kumar Sangakkara who incidentally also plays for Kandurata in Sri Lanka and thus had to flip the coin. It fell in favour of his home team, which prompted Hyderabad to appoint their Indian star Shikhar Dhawan as skipper.

    Dhawan has rediscovered himself ever since making a debut Test hundred against Australia in March this year. He took that form to England in the Champions Trophy where he finished as the tournament's leading run-scorer, and will now lead the team's batting in the Qualifiers as well.

    Also in the Hyderabad line-up will be world's No. 1 bowler Dale Steyn and his team-mate from South Africa JP Duminy. But that's not all. Amit Mishra, Parthiv Patel, Ishant Sharma, Thisara Perera, Darren Sammy and Cameron White leave enough arsenal at Hyderabad's disposal to storm their way into the main event.

    Kandurata Maroons

    Kandurata's build-up was hit by the spat between Sangakkara and Sri Lankan cricket board, but the matter was soon resolved, with Sangkkara deciding to play for his home side instead of his IPL franchise Hyderabad.

    Besides Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan champions are well served by national stars Nuwan Kulasekara, Upul Tharanga, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath, other than skipper Lahiru Thirimanne and Chamara Silva.

    With the tournament taking place in the subcontinent and quality spinners like Herath and Mendis in the side, Kandurata's strength lies in their spinners. To back that up, they can bank on the quality advice of their experienced coach Chaminda Vaas to qualify swiftly.

    Faisalabad Wolves

    Their participation was in limbo until the PMO of India intervened to clear the way for their arrival, and now they can focus on their cricket.

    In 2012, when CLT20 was hosted by South Africa, Sialkot Stallions became the first Pakistani team to take part in the tournament. But Faisalabad will look to do what Sialkot couldn't - and that's qualifying for the main round.

    But it won't be easy for the Pakistani T20 champions, arriving with a squad that has just two recognizable names in captain Misbah-ul-Haq and world class offspinner Saeed Ajmal. The onus of leading from the front will be on these two, and unless they have brought some surprise packages, it's difficult to see them finishing among the top two at the end of the Qualifiers.

    Otago Volts

    The champions from New Zealand spent eight successful days in Sri Lanka preparing for the Qualifiers. Led by veteran Test player Brendon McCullum, the Kiwi team played four practice games against local Sri Lankan teams and stayed unbeaten.

    The camp must have been particularly helpful to players who have never played in the subcontinent before, and that will certainly come handy as the three teams they will be competing against are all from the subcontinent.

    Nathan McCullum, right-handed batsman Neil Broom, fast bowler Ian Butler, left-handed opener Hamish Rutherford and Dutch allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate are Otago players with international experience, but it's the IPL experience of the McCullum brothers and Doeschate that will count the most if the New Zealanders were to go through to the group stage.