The Chevrolet Warriors host the Chevrolet Knights at Axxess St George’s in Port Elizabeth on Thursday in a RAM SLAM T20 Challenge match that could prove pivotal in determining which teams earn a place in the playoffs.
As the competition approaches its crescendo, the Warriors and the visiting Knights find themselves in second and fourth place in the standings respectively. With the table-topping bizhub Highveld Lions looking ominous on 25 points, coach Piet Botha’s side, who sit nine points adrift with a game in hand, are understandably keen to clinch victory on Thursday and keep their hopes of finishing on top of the log – and thus securing automatic passage into the lucrative Champions League – alive.
“We’ve been on a good run with three wins in a row now,” Botha said ahead of the game. “Victories give you confidence, and that’s something we can feed off. But we realise that there’s obviously still a lot of hard work to be done, and we need to just keep our focus on one game at a time. It starts with our clash against the Knights, and that’s a game we need to win.”
“I think the Champions League is big time in the back of your mind, because there is always a lot of outside pressure in terms of the unions and the public. There’s a lot of money around in cricket for the franchises in T20, and I think that plays a big role. It’s obviously a successful year financially if you make it through to the Champions League, and I think everyone is aware of that so it does put a bit of pressure on.”
The Knights sit a further three points behind on 13, and will have to try and secure a place in the second and third place playoff game to have any chance of appearing in the showpiece in India later this year. But coach Sarel Cilliers insists that the pressures of securing such a windfall for the franchise is not the main concern, and that it is simply about winning each game.
“We try to keep our focus on all three formats,” he noted. “Of course, there is a bit of extra pressure on T20 cricket financially, and gains for the franchise itself. But we always play to win, and like any team we want to win every game, so that’s the pressure we’re really feeling. We expect high standards from ourselves, so, aside from the prospect of Champions League cricket, the normal pressures apply too.”
Cilliers’ side have suffered back-to-back defeats after a four-wicket reverse to the Lions in Kimberley on Tuesday. Despite a sensational 47-ball knock of 76 from opener Rilee Rossouw, they were only able to post a below-par 143 for eight batting first. In reply, the men from Gauteng had appeared to stutter, until four sixes in the space of six deliveries from Jean Symes got his team over the line.
“Rilee played a fantastic innings, and I thought were well on track at 110 for two in our innings. Unfortunately we lost a couple of wickets in the last five overs, which didn’t help our cause to score 150 plus on that wicket. Then with the ball I thought we bowled really well to contain them until to the end. Unfortunately for us a well-played knock by Jean Symes, who hit the ball magnificently when they needed 24 off the last two overs, did the job for them, and that’s how T20 cricket games can change,” Cilliers explained.
“I wouldn’t say our confidence has been dented from losing two in a row. As long as we think about what we did, and realise where the mistakes are, it’s easy to rectify. It’s not rocket science to understand why you lose games like that, and we can sort that out. It’s just a case of putting it together in games to come so that when the crunch comes you can do the job,” he added.
Despite the loss for the Knights, Cilliers’ Warriors counterpart Botha was adamant that his team won’t be underestimating Thursday’s opponents, and is expecting a close contest when the teams square off.
“Sometimes when teams are coming off a defeat or two, it can make them more dangerous. The Knights are a very competitive team. From the start of the campaign we realised that they are going to be one of the teams that are up there, and with three games to go anything can happen. We have a lot of respect for the Knights and the kind of team that they are, and it should be a heck of a game on Thursday night,” Botha said.
Cilliers was in agreement, but believes it will take something extra special from his team if they are to topple the men with the same title sponsor as their own.
“The Warriors are playing well at the moment, and they’ve got a bit of a run going now too. We need to up our game, and every player in the team needs to improve by 10 percent in Port Elizabeth,” the Knights coach admitted.
He continued: “We also need one or two special performances. In T20 cricket, one special knock or one fine over can take the game away from the opposition. Some days you can just put that perfect performance together, and we can do it. So we’re looking forward to the game – it’s always a tough battle when the two Chevrolet sides meet. It should be a good contest, and there’s always a great atmosphere in PE too.”