The preliminaries having been completed, a large step up lies ahead for Auckland at the Champions League next week.

Having won their qualifying group, they now square off against four teams, all boasting leading international players, starting with Kolkata Knight Riders, one of four Indian Premier League teams in the 10-team competition.

The curve is about to get significantly steeper, but one of their senior players backs his teammates to be up for the challenge.

"The guys are just playing really well," senior seamer Kyle Mills said yesterday. "I only arrived about four or five days ago [from Sri Lanka and the world T20] and I noticed the confidence within the group. They've been training pretty hard for a couple of weeks, they were playing at the Wanderers and Centurion [when beating Sialkot and Hampshire in qualifying], two of the best stadiums in the world, and the guys weren't fazed. They knew what they had to do."


Mills maintains last year's disappointing effort, losing both qualifying games on the final ball, has helped harden Auckland to the task. Having a group of experienced players, with no real newcomers, has been beneficial.

His own form has been impressive, two for six off four overs against Sialkot; none for 22 from his four against Hampshire.

"I've been on tour since the middle of June, playing cricket non-stop since then, and I'm one of those bowlers who needs a lot of bowling under my belt. I've got good rhythm and to come over here with a bit more carry in the wickets suits my bowling."

The IPL teams - Kolkata, Delhi Daredevils, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians - may be strong on home turf, but their domestic players won't be as comfortable in South African conditions.

The first two have New Zealand representation, Brendon McCullum at Kolkata, national captain Ross Taylor at Delhi, but a key point for Auckland is they must get strong returns out of their leading players.

Batsmen Martin Guptill, Lou Vincent and Anaru Kitchen have all made good runs; Mills, Andre Adams, Michael Bates and Roneel Hira have been solid with the ball, while allround import Azhar Mahmood has been outstanding and the fielding has been terrific.

"If we stick to what we're doing, don't get too far ahead of ourselves we can definitely compete. Cricket is a momentum game and hopefully we can hold this confidence and move forward," Mills added.

A glance at the squads of Auckland's four opponents gives an idea of the task ahead.


Kolkata boast Indian internationals Gautam Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan, Australian quick Brett Lee, South African allround king Jacques Kallis, and clever West Indian spinner Sunil Narine, plus McCullum.

South Africa's Titans have test men AB de Villiers and Jacques Rudolph; Delhi are led by Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardene, supported by South African pace ace Morne Morkel, restless England batting star Kevin Pietersen, and Indians Virendar Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, with Taylor; while Perth Scorchers include former England batsman Paul Collingwood, ex-South African opener Herschelle Gibbs, and Australian internationals Brad Hogg and Simon Katich, with future Wellington wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi getting a chance to show his short game ahead of becoming eligible for New Zealand from about mid-January.

The other pool comprises Chennai, Mumbai, Sydney Sixers - with New Zealand offspinner Nathan McCullum - Yorkshire and the South African Lions.