With a new SA coach, fran­chise play­ers will be out to im­press for a Test place

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - LUNGANI ZAMA

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

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