Lions look to down Cobras
Kings of the jungle take on Prince’s men as four-day cricket resumes
IN A season that’s featured winter Tests, a tour to Australia and a domestic T20 competition sans a sponsor, you’d be forgiven if you’d already forgotten about the four-day Sunfoil Series which resumes today and sees the sleepy Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn hosting a match.
But for all the wisecracks about crowds being made up of ‘one man and his dog’ – or should that be ostrich in Oudtshoorn’s case – the Sunfoil Series remains the bedrock upon which the Proteas are built and in that regard is a vital part of the cricket schedule. This season’s competition just so happens to be shaping up as one of the most competitive tournaments of recent seasons with the top five teams separated by less than 10 points.
It’s only the hapless Cape Cobras who are winless but they have probably had the most interesting mini break of all the franchises following a change in coach. The board of Western Cape Cricket finally came to their senses and realising it’s impossible for players to work with a coach they don’t want shifted Paul Adams to a High Performance position, although how a failed coach can now be placed in a position to manage coaches is something the WCC failed to explain.
Ashwell Prince will guide the Cobras for the remainder of the season. It is understood to be a popular choice among the players and his input, given his recent international experience, will be most welcome in a dressing-room that’s been divided over the coaching issue which the WCC allowed to get so out of control that it ended up with CCMA.
Prince will garner the necessary respect from the dressing-room simply by virtue of his fine record as a Test player. A disciplined professional, his first task will be to provide some sort of stability to a side that’s won just three matches out of 15 across two competitions so far this season.
Perhaps playing in Oudtshoorn is the right kind of environment as well for the players, where the only distraction will be counting ostriches.
It is an unusual venue for a first class match but Cricket SA and the WCC deserve some credit for taking a match to small-town venues where it will be treated like a main event.
Certainly in the case of the Cobras’ opponents, the Highveld Lions, thoughts have turned to hosting a Sunfoil match in Soweto at some stage next season, a step up from the annual eKasi Challenge against the Titans.
Besides spreading the game though, the match itself is an important one for both sides. The Cobras are seeking to establish themselves this season, perhaps with an eye on making a proper challenge in the Momentum Cup that starts in just over five weeks, while the Lions have to keep the pressure on the table-topping Titans.
It’s been an unusual season for everyone given there’s been no domestic cricket since the T20 Challenge Final on December 16 and the players have all enjoyed a break over the festive season. No doubt they’ve all been hard at work trying to get back into rhythm, but they can certainly be forgiven some rustiness in this round of matches.
Which adds to the intrigue, because it’s difficult to measure just how the break will have affected all the teams. The Titans would certainly have been able to properly celebrate Mark Boucher’s first trophy as a coach, but the return of the Sunfoil Series also sees different players return to the mix for the defending champions.
Whatever momentum was garnered when the first half of the tournament was completed at the start of November is now gone, and it’s a bit like starting over again for all the teams.
Perhaps the match of the round sees the Titans face the Knights in Bloemfontein.
The first meeting between the pair saw the Knights stage a remarkable turnaround thanks to two former Titans players; Theunis de Bruyn and Marchant de Lange, to claim victory at Centurion.
At Kingsmead the competition’s two leading run-scorers will go up against each other when the Dolphins, with Khaya Zondo – currently with an aggregate of 494 runs, face a Warriors team containing Colin Ackermann – 499 runs. FACING A FAMILIAR FOE: Theunis de Bruyn will be up against his former employers (the Titans) for the Knights in the Sunfoil Series this weekend. The second half of the tournament starts today.