Proteas spots up for grabs

Se­ries a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for play­ers to im­press Ot­tis Gib­son

Saturday Star - - SPORT - LUNGANI ZAMA

THE 2017/18 do­mes­tic cricket sea­son is upon us and the six fran­chises go­ing for the four-day ti­tle again will be look­ing for early mo­men­tum in a sea­son that has plenty on the go.

The 2016/17 Sun­foil Se­ries cham­pi­ons, the Knights, may have sur­prised some with their ex­ploits this past sea­son but they will be closely watched this term.

In The­u­nis de Bruyn, they have a young leader who has al­ready shown rel­ish for the task at hand. In the win­ter, he and spear­head Duanne Olivier were re­warded with call-ups to the na­tional team and that is ex­actly the prob­lem that comes with be­ing in the spot­light.

David Miller still re­tains an in­ter­est in a Test cap and he will need to pile on sin­cere runs to make that wish a real­is­tic goal.

De Bruyn and Olivier may also find their op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Proteas’ mid­dle-or­der lim­ited again with the re­turn of AB de Vil­liers and Dale Steyn, but they should still be in the larger Proteas’ set-up.

Nicky Boje, the coach in Bloemfontein, will be look­ing for a fast start at home against the Co­bras, start­ing on Tues­day.

The Ti­tans are again ex­pected to be right in the mix given their rich play­ing re­sources. As if it were not enough that Mark Boucher’s charges were a lim­ited-overs force last term, they have now added the ex­pe­ri­ence and class of the likes of De Vil­liers and Steyn, and will also have Chris Mor­ris, Quin­ton de Kock and Dean El­gar in the early stages of the com­pe­ti­tion.

It is a great team on paper, and Boucher’s big­gest chal­lenge will be keep­ing ev­ery­one happy.

There is much ex­pected of Lungi Ngidi if he can stay fit this sea­son, and it is no bad thing that Steyn will be on hand to share his worldly ex­pe­ri­ences.

Ai­den Markram con­tin­ues to bang on the Proteas’ door and he should join the long line of Pre­to­ria Proteas cur­rently at Cen­tu­rion.

The Li­ons start at home against the plucky War­riors.

Af­ter sev­eral years of dom­i­na­tion, the Gaut­eng-based out­fit en­dured a tough time last sea­son.

For one thing, losing the likes of Mor­ris and De Kock across the Jukskei didn’t help mat­ters. That said, young­sters like Wi­aan Mul­der came on in leaps and bounds – even while jug­gling school books with fran­chise five-fors – and coach Ge­off Toy­ana will want to be back chal­leng­ing for ti­tles.

Their pace at­tack looks pretty for­mi­da­ble, with the likes of Beu­ran Hen­dricks, Dwaine Pre­to­rius and Craig Alexan­der all very ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers.

They also have a young man by the name of Kag­iso Rabada to call upon in the first few weeks, while skip­per Stephen Cook will be bat­ting with a point to prove again.

The loss of Temba Bavuma to the Co­bras is a big one, but it is also time for Reeza Hen­dricks to de­liver on years of prom­ise and be­come a match-win­ner at this level.

The War­riors have strangely be­come a bit of a Kol­pak launch­pad, with the likes of Colin In­gram, Si­mon Harmer and Kyle Ab­bott all chang­ing the course of their ca­reers sud­denly.

Coach Mal­i­bongwe Maketa knows he must re­build and fo­cus his en­er­gies on mak­ing Eastern Cape cricket strong again.

JJ Smuts has had a taste of in­ter na­tional cricket and will want some more. Around him, how­ever, the PE fran­chise need a lot more runs.

Also down the coast, the Dol­phins have ac­quired the ser­vices of Dane Vi­las, and coach Grant Mor­gan main­tains that pre-sea­son has been one of the best he has been in­volved in.

Skip­per Khaya Zondo took over from Morne van Wyk in the lat­ter stages of last sea­son and he will rel­ish the chance to start afresh.

The Dur­ban out­fit still have plenty of bat­ting fire- power and burly left-han­der Vaughn van Jaarsveld will want to pick up where he left off and hope oth­ers fol­low suit.

In the bowl­ing department, Daryn Du­pavil­lon makes a sprightly re­turn from ex­tended in­jury to join a long list of seam­ers, while Proteas Im­ran Tahir and Ke­shav Ma­haraj will be a hand­ful when they are still avail­able for do­mes­tic ser­vice.

Down at New­lands, things have be­come a lot calmer.

In­ter­nal wars, as for­mer coach Paul Adams lost the change-room, se­verely ham­pered their progress last sea­son and it is a won­der there weren’t more ca­su­al­ties.

Now, though, is a time for a fresh start.

In Ja­son Smith and Dane Paterson, the Co­bras have a fu­ture, and they ought to look to build around that.

There is still a fes­tive bunch of Proteas on their books, though it re­mains to be seen just how many pull on the Co­bras jumper to­gether.

With new na­tional coach Ot­tis Gib­son in town, the open­ing rounds of four-day cricket are a chance for play­ers of all ages and stages to get no­ticed, and we may yet see a strong surge in qual­ity. There is noth­ing wrong with that.

While most have their eye set on the T20 Global League, red-ball cricket re­mains the only cur­rency that leads to Test hon­ours.

It mat­ters, and so the next fort­night will be fiercely con­tested around the coun­try.

The­u­nis de Bruyn leads the de­fend­ing cham­pion Knights in the up­com­ing Sun­foil Se­ries.

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