The Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras entertain the Chevrolet Warriors at Paarl this weekend. While still early days in the season, it is a top of the table clash with the Cobras holding a lead of less than one point over their Eastern Cape visitors. After the disappointment of two weeks ago, the teams will be pleased to see no rain in the weather forecast although there will not be too many jerseys left in the dressing room as temperatures will remain chilly.
Each team has a win and a draw to date. The Cobras had a convincing away win against the Lions before having their match against the Knights washed out. The Warriors thrashed the Titans in their opening match, but only a solid eighth wicket partnership between Simon Harmer and Adrian Birch, assisted by a liberal dose of bad light, saved them from defeat against the Dolphins in East London last weekend.
The Warriors have never been a force in the four day competition, never having won the SuperSport Series. Indeed, the Eastern Cape franchise has only won fifteen of its 82 four day matches to date despite their success in the limited overs formats. However, a solid performance in the corresponding fixture during the Christmas holidays last summer, also at Paarl, ended a long unbeaten run for the Cobras and played a major role in their failure to capture a hat-trick of SuperSport titles.
One man instrumental in that triumph was Harmer. The blonde off-spinner routed the Cobras in their second innings with career best figures of eight for 72 and a match haul of eleven for 149. He went on to be the leading wicket-taker in the SuperSport Series with 44, and was rewarded with a call up to the South Africa A team. Coach Piet Botha is excited about the prospects for the 23 year old product of Pretoria Boys High. Botha feels that Harmer’s talents are not limited to his bowling, as he is a useful batsman and a fine fielder. He sees Harmer as a replacement for Johan Botha, who has taken up an appointment with South Australia with no immediate prospect of returning to South Africa.
The Warriors attack also has three useful seamers in Birch, Basheeru-Deen Walters and former Western Province player Gurshwin Rabie, who have all been amongst the wickets in the opening matches of the campaign. One of these might have to make way to accommodate Wayne Parnell on his return from the World T20. The batsmen have also been in form, with consistent scores from Ashwell Prince, Colin Ingram, Davey Jacobs and his opening partner Michael Price. Ingram was the Man of the Match in the match at Paarl last summer as his scores of 140 and 92 not out trumped the efforts of Harmer. Another smile on the coach’s face comes from the availability of Jacobs, whose last few seasons have been dogged by injury problems. Botha said there was a leadership vacuum as a result of his absence due to injury while the stand-in captains were also being called up to the national squad.
Another factor in favour of the Warriors could be the slow pitch. While efforts have been made to breathe life into the Boland Park strip, the Warriors have often felt more at home at this venue than the Cobras. Botha feels that the pitch for the match last season matched that of St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.
Nevertheless, the Warriors face a formidable task. The Cobras team is oozing with talent, and the return of new captain Justin Ontong and Vernon Philander should beef up the team even more. The squad for the first two matches has been retained with the addition of these two Protea players, and Beuren Hendricks might be the seamer to miss out. There might be a bit more for Paul Adams to scratch his head over in the batting department. He would be hesitant to leave out a player of Justin Kemp’s experience.
Both Kemp and Qaasim Adams recorded ducks in their only innings in Potchefstroom and were given a chance to regain their form in the Western Province Provincial Challenge match against Border over the weekend. Adams responded with a career best score of 147, in challenging circumstances, while Kemp was unimpressive in his turn at the crease. Kemp does have the advantage of being a useful fourth seamer, but his bowling in the weekend’s match lacked penetration in helpful conditions. Adams is still considering his options, with the final team to be announced on Wednesday.
It was good to see Monde Zondeki back in action for the Western Province team after an elbow injury and a season back in his native Eastern Province. While troubling the Border batsmen, he is still not back to his full pace.