With a new SA coach, franchise players will be out to impress for a Test place
THE 2017/18 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 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 the 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 against the Cobras.
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 the services of Chris Morris, Quinton de Kock and Dean Elgar in the early stages of the competition.
It is a powerful 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 domina- tion, 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 responsibilities – 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 international cricket, and will want some more. Around him, however, the PE franchise needs a lot more runs.
Also down the coast, the Dolphins have acquired the services of Dane Vilas, and coach Grant Morgan maintains that the 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 has plenty of batting firepower, 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 that 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 are still a bunch of Proteas on their books, though it remains to be seen just how many pull on the Cobras jumper together.
JP Duminy has expressed his ambition to win his Test place back, and he will only do that with a pile of runs.
With a new national coach 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 as the only currency that leads to Test honours.
It matters, and so the next fortnight will be fiercely contested around the country.
BACK IN ACTION: Theunis de Bruyn, left, and Temba Bavuma