The 2011 edition of the Nokia Champions League T20 kicks off today in Chennai and all the stars will be on show. The tournament looks set to thrill fans with excitement as the world’s top clubs vie for top honours. Shayne D’souza picks some key players who may just about make the difference between winning and losing.

S.L Malinga (Mumbai Indians)

S.L Malinga

Slinga Malinga is arguably the best T20 bowler in the world. Nippy and quick, he literally leaves batsmen on their toes. His round arm action make it difficult for batsmen to know which way the ball will go and his Yorkers are unplayable. He’s even got a slower ball that can outsmart any batsmen no matter how good they are. Malinga was the highest wicket-taker in the 2011 edition of IPL with 27 wickets! The Mumbai Indian’s will be relying on him to provide them with crucial breakthroughs .

Daniel Vettori (Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Daniel Vetorri

Without Zaheer in the side, the onus on leading the Royal Challengers bowling rests on the able shoulders of the wily Dan Vettori . Also the captain of the side, Vettori is known to strangulate batsmen for runs. The slow pitches in India should help him during the tournament. He’s also a reliable lower order batsman which makes him an important player for the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

Jacques Kallis (Kolkata Knight


Jacques Kallis

Gautam Gambhir’s injury will leave Kallis leading the side and Kolkata Knight Riders will be relying heavily on this South African to control their innings and lead them to good scores. Kallis is also a reliable bowler and a good catcher - he’s a good middle overs bowler and Kolkata’s chances on winning depend heavily on how the stand-in captain performs.

Shane Watson (New South Wales)
A run machine for any team that he plays for, Shane Watson has already proved why the world considers him to be one of the best all rounders in the modern game. Add to that, Watson’s wily bowling helps New South Wales pick up wickets at crucial times of a game. He’s also a great fielder and has tons of experience. Hence he is a crucial player for New South Wales.

Suresh Raina (Chennai Super Kings)

Suresh-Raina Chennai Super Kings

The second-in-command for the Chennai Super Kings, Suresh Raina is a reliable batsman and is one of only three Indians to score a T20 ton. His recent form going into the Champions League makes him very important for the Chennai side. Batting at number three, Raina often controls the innings and helps Chennai score runs at a quick pace. He’s also a handy bowler in the middle overs.

Daniel Christian (South Australia)

Dan Christian

Rated highly in the cricket world, this Redback Australian made his name in the under-19 World Cup in 2001-02. Known for his big booming shots, on his day Dan Christian can smack bowlers quite easily out of the park. He did not do much for the Deccan Chargers in the recently concluded IPL 2011, and he’ll be looking to change that. Christian can be a handy middle overs bowler and is a good fielder.

Roelof van der Merwe  (Somerset)

Roelof van der Merwe

Roelof van der Merwe made his name with outstanding performances for the Titans on South Africa’s domestic cricket league. A tidy spinner and a hard-hitting batsman, he’s also a great fielder. His all-round abilities make him an important member of the Somerset team for this year’s Champions Trophy.

Herschelle Gibbs (Cape Cobras)

Herschelle Gibbs

The Cape Cobras will rely on Herschelle Gibbs’ experience to get them through the tournament. This explosive opener has a good strike rate and on a good day can demolish any bowling attack. His innings against the West Indies in the inaugural T20 World Championships is proof of that!