The Chevrolet Knights ride into battle against the Nashua Titans at SuperSport Park in their Momentum One Day Cup match tomorrow. The statistics favour the visitors. Although the teams are deadlocked with ten wins apiece in their previous twenty encounters in the corresponding competitions, the Knights have outplayed the Titans at their Centurion headquarters, winning five of the seven matches the teams have played at SuperSport Park. Their last encounter at this venue was the final in 2010/11 when the Eagles, as they were still known then, made short work of a rain-reduced target of 152 in 23 overs.
Going into tomorrow’s game, the Knights find themselves in second place on the log despite having only played one match. They might feel a bit left behind, trailing the Lions by nine points, but have a perfect record after a bonus point win against the Warriors last Sunday. The scheduling has seen them with the luxury of a full week off after that Kimberley encounter. Coach Sarel Cilliers had mixed feelings over their lack of match practice, bearing in mind their complete lack of game time in October after three of their four-day Sunfoil Series matches were abandoned. “I would prefer to see the players fresh as they are, although there is a lack of momentum amongst the batsmen while the bowlers might be suffering a lack of match conditioning.” His charges are relishing the thought of a full day’s play.
The Knights once again go into the match without skipper Morne van Wyk, still sidelined by a shoulder injury. He is expected to be out for another week. The Knights have retained Jean-Pierre Triegaardt is his place, who Cilliers described as the best gloveman available to the franchise after van Wyk despite his lack of batting prowess. Although van Wyk’s batting will be missed, Cilliers is pleased with the all-round form of Ryan McLaren. “Ryan used to be regarded as a bowler who could bat a bit, but his form with the bat is allowing us to shift him up the order and this improves the balance of the team.” The squad for the match is the same as that for the Warriors game.
There is much for Cilliers to be satisfied with at present. Three of his batsmen recorded half-centuries in the Warriors match, while McLaren snapped up five wickets to put the skids under the opponents.
In the light of the scandal to some and a storm in a teacup for others over the leaded Australian game plan for the current Test, I quizzed Cilliers on his approach to preparation. He said there was a place for unsettling opponents, but his preference was to get his players to focus on their own talents. “It is important to first focus on what we need to do, and only then think about the opponents.”
All-round strength is what took the Titans to their win over the Cape Cobras on Wednesday. While the statistics might suggest a lack of penetration from the bowlers, coach Matthew Maynard thinks otherwise. “Our win was based on a solid all-round performance. Ethy Mbhalati put us on track with a spell of nine overs on the trot with the new ball, while he was well supported by the spinners. Roelof van der Merwe, Paul Harris and Henry Davids all bowled well under pressure.” Davids has been an unsung hero both at the Cape Cobras and now at the Titans. Maynard said “Henry is a top player. His innings thoroughly deserved the Man of the Match award, and on another day would have been worth 130.”
Davids was run out in unfortunate circumstances on Wednesday. “No coach likes to see run outs like that,” Maynard said, “but the players are human and mistakes do happen. Sometimes a player must sacrifice himself for the team.”
It is a bit early to look at the batting averages for the Titans as a form guide. The contrast between their two matches to date is huge, and typified by Davids’s returns of 0 and 92. A bright moment has been the batting of Mangaliso Mosehle and David Wiese, who have eached clubbed four sixes to be up with the tournament leaders. Harris has taken three wickets to be the best bowler for the Titans, and his economy rate of 5.5 to the over has been one of the better performances from the Titans.
Apart from the Proteas in Australia and Marchant de Lange, who will miss the entire competition due to injury, the Titans squad is fit and fired up. Albie Morkel has recovered from his injury and is available for selection.
With the Lions streaking ahead of the opposition at this early stage of the season, there is a battle looming for second and third places and a shot at reaching the final, and tomorrow’s game will go some way to determining those final standings. Play starts at 10am tomorrow. Weather conditions are expected to be hot with a mild breeze to provide some relief. There is a 20% chance of thundershowers later in the day.