Buffalo Park plays host to the hugely important RAM SLAM T20 Challenge qualifier between the Chevrolet Warriors and the Nashua Titans on Wednesday, and with so much on the line, it came as little surprise when Warriors coach Piet Botha commenced the mind games over the weekend by suggesting the visitors were “favourites”.
The Nashua Titans bullied their way into Wednesday’s play-off game with four successive wins to complete their campaign, but, despite such an impressive run of form, skipper Henry Davids believes the teams will be evenly matched when the contest gets underway in two days’ time.
“It’s probably just mind games from Piet you know,” Davids said with a smile. “It’s a semi-final, so there are no favourites. I just think it’s going to come down to the team that does the basics and the small things well on the day. And obviously in a format like T20, whichever team handles the pressure best will have the best chance.”
The return of Proteas paceman Morne Morkel has given the Centurion-based franchise a significant boost, and his five wickets in the final two games of the season have come at a cost of just five runs per over. However, they will be without overseas professional Scott Styris, whose 143 runs in the competition have come at an average of 47.66.
Davids remains unconcerned, though, and believes it has taken an all-round team effort to build such impressive momentum at the business end of the campaign.
“It helps a heck of a lot to get on a winning run like we have. The confidence we take into the game is obviously great, and as you know cricket is all about confidence. The good thing for us is that it hasn’t just been a case of one or two individuals standing out. We’ve had a number of good team performances of late where guys have stood up in key situations, so it’s been really pleasing,” the Nashua Titans captain noted.
“Most of the squad are in a great mind-set, and I think now we’re just really looking forward to Wednesday’s game,” he added.
New Zealander Styris has been replaced by a fellow international in Herschelle Gibbs, who was drafted in for the remainder of the competition, and Davids believes the former Proteas opener is already having an impact.
“Herschelle obviously brings so much to the camp with his experience and his explosiveness with the bat, and he’s very good in the field as everyone knows. He is an athlete, and his knowledge of the game is something the other guys can really learn from, and it’s great to have him in the mix,” the 33-year old said.
The men from SuperSport Park have largely endured a season to forget, as they went winless en route to finishing with the wooden spoon in the recent Sunfoil Series. Their fortunes went a bit better in the Momentum One-Day Cup, but a miserable defeat to the Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras at the semi-final stage ended any hopes of silverware there.
Yet Davids believes such setbacks were all part of shaping the character of his squad, and is convinced the experiences will stand them in good stead this week and in future seasons.
“The One-Day season went fairly well, we just had one bad game which was in the semi-final. The Sunfoil Series obviously wasn’t great. One must remember that we had a lot of players on South African duty who weren’t available, so it left big gaps to fill,” the Nashua Titans opener explained.
He continued: “But I told the guys after the series was over that it was a very good thing for us because of what we went through. It was a big learning curve for so many of us, and it’s something we can now improve on in coming seasons. And I think we have already started showing it in this T20 competition.”
The winner of the battle in East London will earn the right to face the bizhub Highveld Lions in the final at the Bidvest Wanderers on April 7. But arguably an even greater incentive is the passage into the lucrative Champions League later this year. Davids, however, says his side are not feeling the pressures of vying for such a windfall, and are keeping their eyes firmly on the task at hand instead.
“The atmosphere has been very good so far to be honest. We have a lot of experienced players at the moment in the T20 squad, so for us it’s basically just another game. If we concentrate on what we’ve got to do, we’ll be okay I reckon. Obviously it’s a massive carrot to make it into the Champions League, but it’s not something we’re putting any focus on – we’re just focusing on what we’ve got to do on the day,” Davids concluded.