It is crunch time for the Highveld Lions: they need to arrest a slide in their Ram Slam T20 fortunes.
At the halfway stage of the competition, the Lions face the mighty Titans, who have not lost a game and are 11 points clear at the top of the log, on Wednesday at the Wanderers.
The Lions, however, come back from a torrid trip to the Cape where they lost twice, and they now sit at fourth on the log, with eights points, having lost three of five matches.
So the Jukskei Derby takes on added potency, and it holds the potential of some exciting match-ups. The last time they met, in round one, the Titans came out top by eight wickets, but with a Duckworth-Lewis calculation.
Kagiso Rabada, particularly, will be looking for revenge. He went for 28 off 2.2 overs as AB de Villiers went on the rampage, smashing 50 off 19 balls (3×4, 5×6). Rabada has been in great form recently, topping the wicket-takers’ list with eight at an average of 15.37. That 50 was De Villiers’ highest score, and he is ranked eighth among the Ram Slam batsmen, with 130 run. But he is striking at a rate of 213! The Lions cannot afford to let him get away.
Another great contest will be between the Young Guns, Aiden Markram and Lions all-rounder Wiaan Mulder.
The new Proteas Test opener, Markram has shown his immense versatility in the T20: in his last three visits to the crease, he has scored 50, 45 and 51 – an average of 73. Mulder lies fourth on the bowlers ranking with six at 23.16.
The Titans have a formidable force at their disposal, even without Dale Steyn. Lungi Ngidi is their spearhead with seven wickets at 13.71, backed by the spin of Tabraiz Shamsi (five at 18.80); while the Lions hold the top run-scorer in Reeza Hendricks, who has harvested 319 at an average of 106, alongside Rassie van der Dussen (rank 5) with 165.
The trouble for the Lions. though, is the rest of the pride have not stepped up: the next best in terms of runs scored is Mangaliso Mosehle (rank 14), with 80 from five matches, including a best of 55, and Dwaine Pretorius (rank 26) with 51 at 17. The Titans, meanwhile, have six batsmen in the top 25.
It is crunch time, too, for the Cobras and Warriors at Paarl. It is a basement battle, and both teams have to start winning consistently.
The Cobras are on a roll now, having won both their last two matches. They too have formidable firepower in JP Duminy (rank 2, 217 runs) and Hashim Amla (rank 3, 171), but again, they lack support from the rest of the batting, the next best being Temba Bavuma (69 runs at an average of 13.8) and Aviwe Mgijima (59 at 14.75). They would also benefit from tighter bowling. Only Rory Kleinveldt, on the back of a brilliant 3-19 last time out, has an economy rate of under eight.
The Warriors have finally broken their win drought, beating the Lions by four wickets. They are woefully under-resourced but constantly punch above their weight without any superstars in their rands. The perfect underdogs with a bite.
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