A big day cut short

Sydney Sixers celebrate Neil McKenzie's dismissal Associated Press

Big days usually seem to be made of a different kind of air. Instead of the usual invisible stuff that swirls around us, there seem to be specks of colour, a buzz courses through it and there may even be a little bit of music that only some can hear.

Freedom days, World Cup finals - these are the kind of days that feel like this. No doubt, many cynics will be somewhat annoyed if the last day of the Champions League T20 is equated with that. Because it isn't really anywhere close. It's a poorly organised, skewed domestic tournament whose rules change at a whim. But on finals evening there was some of that excitement wafting through air.

A sell-out crowd moved around the Wanderers like a moving mass of intensity. They have been here for other matches and on other days but there was something different about this bunch. They were here to cheer for the Lions, the domestic team that has just started to promise something, after half a decade of underachievement.

By the end of the fourth over of the match, that barren run was already destined to continue. On a pitch that was described as being as good as the surface on which the famous 438 game was played six years ago, the home side had managed just 10 runs and their entire top order had been shot out. No, the track had not started slithering snakily like the proverbial green mamba. But the sense of occasion and the shrewd planning of Sydney Sixers had overcome and outdone the Lions.

Using spin from both ends induced a series of bizarre shots -- Gulam Bodi's pull to deep square leg the ball after he managed a straight six, Quinton de Kock's attempted smack to midwicket that ended up at third man that showed him to be the inexperienced 19-year-old he is, and Neil McKenzie's top edge. When Alviro Petersen also departed, the groans were overwhelmingly audible and the one-way traffic only became more congested.

Still, hope lived and there was some recovery. Jean Symes showed the kind of temperament he had spoken about earlier in the tournament. "You just have to take the name away from the bowler," Symes said after his performance against Chennai Super Kings. With the future of Australia's bowling in front of him, Symes was able to ignore their reputations and the pressure around him and carve out a confident half-century. The Wanderers was there to appreciate it and memories of this knock can only spur him on in future.

Thami Tsolekile was his steely aid but for the Lions to post a total worthy of a final, Tsolekile needed to stay at the crease longer. What transpired was that Sydney were able to - for the second time - expose what some always suspected. The Lions batting was not as strong as making the final made them out to be.

"South Africans are used to failure in the big moments. A major trophy has eluded them for years. To make it worse, after a situation where both their teams could have qualified for the final, one fell in dramatic fashion on Friday and the other was completely outplayed after being put under immense pressure today"

In patches, they had done well but they never seemed entirely comfortable as a unit. Their victories over Mumbai Indians and Chennai depended on steady starts that built up to something. In their other matches they struggled to score above seven runs an over. The first time that was exposed was against Sydney in Cape Town and the class of attack managed to tease out the same flaws again, only more effectively. They did not even allow the Lions to start and applied pressure so heavily that they couldn't find a way out.

What Sydney went on to do with the bat can only be just reward for their dominance of this tournament. They have bossed it and earned the right to bully the Lions' bowling in that fashion. There was some bitter irony in that the man who piloted the cruise-liner was Johannesburg-born Michael Lumb.

He and Haddin batted the way the Lions had been trying to do all tournament, only better. They were cautious at first and then exploded to much greater effect than the fireworks display which followed their victory. Even the miserly Aaron Phangiso was thrown off his lengths as he gave up on flighting as cleverly as he done throughout and conceded more in two overs than he has in most spells.

In the one-sidedness it was easy for the atmosphere to evaporate, even though Sydney were so emphatic. The first place it left was in the field. The Lions fielders trooped with shoulders slumped and blankness on their faces. The fans grew restless, random chants sprouted up and with the work week looming, many left. When a home team is so far behind you cannot even say they are chasing the game.

South Africans are used to failure in the big moments. A major trophy - and this is not one on the scale of a World Cup - has eluded them for years. To make it worse, after a situation where both their teams could have qualified for the final, one fell in dramatic fashion on Friday and the other was completely outplayed after being put under immense pressure today. To have their weaknesses laid so bare in such contrasting ways by the same opposition can only have left them feeling as empty and cold as Wanderers did when they abandoned it.

In the home fans' disappointment they missed the Sydney celebrations that, no matter what the event's faults are, confirm that winning this tournament means something. When they stormed the field after Lumb hit the winning runs and later told the media they had been building up to a performance this good for the last two weeks, it was obvious that they wanted victory for reasons other than the material ones.

It cannot be ignored that the financial incentive in this competition is huge. Even though they lost, the Lions walked away with US$1.3 million - of which the team will get half, a quarter will be given to their franchise and the last quarter shared between South Africa's other franchises. Sydney got US$2.5 million and while that will serve as, perhaps even major motivation, it was not everything.

In those moments when they planned, executed and ultimately sealed their victory, Sydney changed the air around the Wanderers. And for that, the Champions League can record some success.