Slow-burn­ing four-day series set to go off with a bang

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

JUST 18 points sep­a­rate the first-place War­riors from the fifth-place Dol­phins ahead of the penul­ti­mate round of fix­tures in the Sun­foil Series.

Quite how all of this will pan out will make for an anx­ious and ex­cit­ing two weeks as the do­mes­tic sea­son con­cludes.

Be­sides form and even the weather there are a num­ber of fac­tors at play that could im­pact on which team will be crowned South Africa’s first­class cham­pi­ons.

The most sig­nif­i­cant is the avail­abil­ity of “fringe” play­ers from the na­tional team.

For ex­am­ple Hein­rich Klaasen will be avail­able for the Ti­tans, who head to Paarl to face the Cape Co­bras, for whom Temba Bavuma should also be avail­able, while Wi­aan Mul­der should play for the Highveld Li­ons who host the Dol­phins.

How­ever The­u­nis de Bruyn, is tak­ing ad­van­tage of Proteas coach Ot­tis Gib­son’s guide­line that none of the play­ers in­volved in the open­ing two Tests against the Aus­tralians should play in this week’s round of four-day fix­tures.

For the Knights, who are play­ing the War­riors in East Lon­don, it’s a sig­nif­i­cant blow, for it could be ar­gued that De Bruyn, who’s been play­ing rea­son­ably well, should prob­a­bly have looked to main­tain some sort of rhythm.

Then from a na­tional and Ti­tans per­spec­tive there’s what to do about Dale Steyn. The fast bowler is ap­par­ently un­avail­able for this week’s clash at Boland Park, but may be in line for se­lec­tion for the fi­nal match of the sea­son, next week at Cen­tu­rion against the Knights, where the ti­tle could be on the line.

Steyn has to fol­low the na­tional team’s in­struc­tions and prove his fit­ness for the last Test against the Aus­tralians start­ing on 30 March at the Wan­der­ers, by play­ing one first-class match – and the only one avail­able to him, is next week.

For all the ex­pe­ri­ence he brings there will be a nag­ging worry at the back of Ti­tans coach Mark Boucher’s mind about Steyn, es­pe­cially bring­ing him in for just one match of such grave im­por­tance to the fran­chise.

It all adds to the in­trigue, in a com­pe­ti­tion which took a long time to catch fire.

The Ti­tans were the only team that man­aged a win in the first half of the com­pe­ti­tion, but since the tour­na­ment re­sumed, the War­riors twice and the Dol­phins and Co­bras, each on one oc­ca­sion have man­aged to pick up wins.

The War­riors’ last win, against the Ti­tans was a dra­matic one, as they claimed the fi­nal wicket off the last ball of the game. They’ve been in­spired by the bril­liance of off-spin­ner Si­mon Harmer, who’s claimed 38 wick­ets in six matches.

Buf­falo Park is where the War­riors have won their two matches in this sea­son’s com­pe­ti­tion, and they’ll cer­tainly start as favourites, even as they are go­ing up against ar­guably the most con­sis­tent bat­ting unit in SA in the form of the Knights, who’ve claimed the most bonus points for bat­ting of any of the six fran­chises.

Both the Co­bras and the Ti­tans will hope they en­counter a Paarl pitch that goes against tra­di­tion for their match.

The last game at Boland Park, saw the Li­ons and Co­bras share over 1200 runs in the four days with 22 wick­ets fall­ing.

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