Nicky Boje’s Knights have all the tools in the shed to win their first Sunfoil Series title in nine years.
Winning trophies became second nature to the side from the Free State a decade ago.
Household names such as Boeta Dippenaar, Jacques Rudolph, Morne van Wyk and Loots Bosman, accompanied by the experienced heads of Roger Telemachus, Nicky Boje and Johan van der Wath, saw the Eagles obliterate the rest of the field, winning all three trophies on offer in 2004-5.
Fast forward 10 or so years, and you have a side – now called the Knights – struggling to earn any recognition or respect and without a trophy since 2010.
Boje, born, bred and schooled in Bloemfontein, knows this franchise all too well, and when he took over from Sarel Cilliers a year ago, he was determined to change his side’s fortunes. This season, all the signs are pointing towards success.
The signs were there as they narrowly missed out on second spot in the Sunfoil Series last season, but Boje laid down his blueprint for success this season with some ambitious acquisitions.
Theunis de Bruyn, perhaps motivated by the captaincy, is just one of four big names to have moved central. De Bruyn is a run-machine, has been an SA A stalwart for over two years and has been hugely unlucky not to have played for the Proteas yet.
Burgeoning paceman Marchant de Lange and experienced Capetonian Robin Peterson have also joined the ranks, while David Miller should expect a healthy stint in the side with the Proteas focusing on Tests for the next couple of months.
Heading to and fro between Bloemfontein and Kimberley doesn’t appear to be appealing to a lad from the East Coast like Miller on surface value, but it’s clear that there’s an air of ambition and drive going on in this camp, and it’s players like Miller and De Lange who boost that sentiment around the camp.
‘We’re all enjoying the mood in the camp at the moment,’ De Bruyn told me last month. ‘I think the other members of the team are also keen to seek new challenges and reach new heights. So the change has been healthy. Just winning games for this franchise and creating a legacy for this side is my priority at the moment.’
I chatted to De Bruyn before his side won their first two matches of the Sunfoil Series, and it was De Bruyn and De Lange who destroyed their old employers and the defending champions the Titans in the opener, with De Lange taking scarcely-believable figures of 7-23 to bowl them out for 57.
But it’s not just the new faces to have impressed so far. Batting was a serious point of concern for the Knights last season with No 7 Werner Coetsee scoring the most runs, his 573 only good enough to be 12th overall.
That statistic appears to already be on the mend, with centuries from Pite van Biljon and Rudi Second contributing to an extremely comfortable 175-run win against the Cape Cobras in their second match.
Throw in the brilliant young bowling talents that are Duanne Olivier and Mbulelo Budaza, the explosive Miller and a T20 Challenge cameo from Rilee Rossouw, and the side certainly look like they have the recipe for success.
‘We need to improve in all of the competitions,’ said De Bruyn. ‘You don’t just turn things around overnight; it will take time. But if we keep investing our time towards success and keep doing the right things, we can look back in a few years’ time and look back at the beginning of this season.’
This ambition bodes well for a side that seems to have lost its way in recent years. Expect the boys from Bloemfontein to be competing across the formats with their new-found drive, acquisitions and confidence.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images