• Victory vital for Lions in 4-Day Series finale

    The Highveld Lions are targeting victory in the final round of matches in the 4-Day Franchise Series as they push the Cape Cobras to the wire for the title.

    Highveld Lions coach Enoch Nkwe says their primary focus for next week’s finale against the Warriors will be to win their clash in Potchefstroom, adding that the title will come automatically if they continue what they have been doing in recent games.

    The premier first-class competition is set for a thrilling climax as the Johannesburg-based side vie for the title with the log-leading Cape Cobras from Monday.

    READ ALSO: Cobras roll Titans in three days, Piedt takes 13-141

    The Cobras hold a lead of just over three points over the former, but with big bonus points on still on offer in the tournament, every scenario is possible. The Cape Town side can secure the title with a win, a draw or even a loss away at the Dolphins, while they can also surrender it with either one of those results, depending on what happens at Senwes Park.

    ‘It can be difficult to control,’ says Nkwe. ‘We’ve just got to keep investing our focus and energies in what we’ve been doing well.

    ‘The Warriors are such a phenomenal outfit, they’ve been playing good cricket the last couple of weeks, so they’ll be a really dangerous team. We’ve got to make sure we take care of our processes first and the result will take care of itself.’

    Nkwe also paid tribute to the Cobras, saying that should they win the top prize, they will be deserving champions.

    ‘The Cobras, who’ve been playing good cricket, at the end of the day if they win it, then they would have deserved it,’ he added. ‘They’ve played good cricket throughout the season, but we’re just going to do our utmost to try and keep that pressure going. We have to focus on all the things we’ve been doing well.

    ‘If we miss out, then it’s part of life, we’ve got to learn from it and move on. But we’ll do our utmost to try to get that win, which will hopefully bring us the championship.’

    READ ALSO: Cobras, Lions jostle for 4-Day title

    The Lions won their third consecutive game this week when they overcame the Knights in Bloemfontein, and Nkwe said that his players were ticking all the right boxes at the moment.

    ‘I’m just happy with the space the guys are in,’ he said, beaming. ‘The performance levels are excellent and this past week was again superb all round. It has now put us in a position where we can still believe. Even if the Cobras win, we know we can still win it.’

    The Warriors, meanwhile, saw their dreams of the title go up in smoke this past week when their match against the Dolphins ended prematurely due to the weather. Coach Rivash Gobind was admittedly saddened, but felt their slow start to the season ultimately cost them.

    ‘We are disappointed to be out of the running, but in a competition like this, you’ve got 10 games to put yourself in a position,’ he said. ‘We played some really good cricket in the last half now. I think we had a little bit of a slow start and that’s probably cost us in the end.’

    Gobind also lamented their injury luck from recent weeks, adding: ‘We’ve had a number of injuries over the last two weeks, some key players like Simon Harmer, Colin Ackermann, and we’ll have Jon-Jon (Smuts) out of the next one.

    ‘So we’ll have to assess things before the game. They’re in really good form, but we’ve also shown what we can do in recent weeks. May the best team win there.’

    READ ALSO: Batsmen rule roost in 4-Day Series

    Dolphins vs Cape Cobras

    Dolphins assistant coach Imraan Khan is relishing the prospect of finishing their campaign on a high note when they welcome the log-leading Cape Cobras to Pietermaritzburg from Monday.

    ‘I think it’s going to be a great season finale, them wanting to secure the title and us trying to end the campaign on a high,’ said Khan. ‘From our point of view, it’s been a very young team that we’ve been picking in recent weeks and we just want these players to continue showing development at this level.

    ‘Hopefully, we can take those vibes into our one-day campaign and into next season as well.’

    In an exciting end to the term, the visitors take a narrow lead of just over three points over the Highveld Lions into round 10, but every scenario remains a possibility.

    The Cape Town side can secure the title with a win, a draw or even a loss, but because of bonus points, they can also surrender it with either one of those results, depending what their closest rivals manage to achieve in their clash with the Warriors in Potchefstroom.

    For the Dolphins, they can end as high as third should they win, and Khan is keen for a solid finish, especially after they were denied a possible victory earlier this week.

    ‘I think we’ve played good cricket in the second half of the season, bar the one match against the Lions,’ he added. ‘I thought we were really good against the Warriors over these past few days. Towards the end especially we were good, and if we had had a clear day, then the outcome could easily have been different. The guys showed good fight and character as well.’

    For Cobras coach Ashwell Prince all the focus over the next week will be on playing their natural game in KwaZulu-Natal.

    READ ALSO: Lions riding crest of wave as 4-Day Series hits crunch time

    ‘There are just a few points in it now, so it’s going to be an exciting finish,’ he stated. ‘We know that we have to go out there against the Dolphins and win the game.

    ‘We’re just happy to be in with a shout. We know if we win the game, we’ll have a good opportunity to come out on top.’

    There has only been one other game in Pietermaritzburg this season, but that clash with the Knights was heavily affected by the weather and ended in a draw. Results in the city often prove difficult due to the climate, but Prince says that is something beyond their control.

    ‘Conditions will play a role. It could rain, it could be bad light, but those sorts of things are out of our control,’ he added. ‘We’ve got to try to play as best we can in the time we do get to play. That’s all that matters. We respect the opposition and have to play a good game.’

    The Cobras produced a professional performance this week when they bounced back from defeat to the Warriors in the previous game by crushing defending champions the Titans in Oudtshoorn.

    ‘I was very happy with the way we played this week,’ he added. ‘We came to Oudtshoorn expecting it to be tough to get a result because of the nature of the pitch. Obviously, we wanted certain conditions and we wanted the ball to spin a bit, which it did.

    ‘So it was a good pitch and credit must go to Dane Piedt and George Linde, I thought they bowled really well this week and obviously drove us to victory. The captain led from the front and has had sensational season, 52 wickets so far. He fully deserves it because he’s been working hard. He’s led our team well.’

    READ ALSO: Kleinveldt ends first-class career

    Titans vs Knights

    Titans coach Mark Boucher is hoping to end a disappointing 4-Day Domestic Series season strongly when the outgoing champions welcome the Knights to Benoni. The Centurion-based franchise have not enjoyed a happy campaign thus far, winning just once, losing four times and drawing the other four of their nine matches to sit second bottom on the standings.

    They have struggled to find any sort of rhythm as injuries and national call-ups appear to have taken their toll. Boucher concedes it has been a poor season, and hopes to end it well with a positive result at Willowmoore Park.

    ‘Hopefully we’ll get a few of our international players back and that will bolster us a bit,’ he said. ‘I think we’ve shown that when have had one or two of them, it makes a significant difference. We want to try to finish well and maybe then get a little bit of momentum heading into the One-Day Cup.’

    The latest defeat for the home team came earlier this week when they were sent tumbling by the log-leading Cape Cobras in Oudtshoorn. The Titans were thumped by eight wickets in a match that saw Dane Piedt claim 13 wickets, and Boucher acknowledged they were once again poor.

    ‘It was disappointing,’ conceded Boucher. ‘I think this particular game, Dane Piedt did bowl very well, but we dropped four catches and that didn’t help us very much, especially on a pitch that had we ended up being level with them after the first innings, then things could have been a lot different.

    ‘But it wasn’t to be and so it’s just a continuation of the disappointment with the bat. With the ball, I thought we did a lot better than we have been, except for the first session, and then the drops. So when it rains, it seems to pour. But bottom line is that it’s been a disappointing season.’

    For the Knights, it has also been a below-par season, although the Bloemfontein-based side have shown plenty of promise in almost every game. They boast the competition’s top-scorer in Keegan Petersen, and the right-hander has been exceptional in amassing 923 runs this year.

    Petersen and his teammates, who lost to the Highveld Lions this week, will be aiming for a strong finish, although assistant coach Werner Coetsee acknowledges that a trip to the Titans is never easy.

    ‘The Titans are always a difficult team, so it will be a tough game for us,’ he said. ‘There’s been a lot of encouragement for us in these last few games, even though the results may not have been what we wanted.

    ‘We didn’t have four of our first-choice bowlers against the Lions and we still competed so well. Hopefully, some of them are back for the last game, if not, it will be another chance to build on what we’ve been doing these last few games.’

    The latest 4-Day Domestic Series Table

    P W L D Bat Bowl Pts
    WSB Cape Cobras 9 6 2 1 33,46 36 171,46
    Highveld Lions 9 6 2 1 37,42 29 168,42
    Warriors 9 3 3 3 34,18 34 134,18
    Knights 9 2 4 3 31,04 27 108,04
    Titans 9 1 4 4 30,66 29 99,66
    Dolphins 9 1 4 4 28,96 30 98,96

    Photo: Cricket South Africa

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