All roads lead to St George’s Park on Wednesday for the opening match of the 2024 SA20 tournament.
Defending champions the Sunrisers Eastern Cape will get an early test of their credentials when they face the Joburg Super Kings.
The men in yellow from up north will be hoping to exact revenge for their semi-final defeat to the Sunrisers in Centurion last season.
JSK have tasted success at the iconic stadium before, having won in Gqeberha last season. Faf du Plessis’ team were victorious in both league-stage matches after also trumping the Sunrisers at the Wanderers.
The tournament opener promises to be an exhilarating encounter.
Both teams are armed with talented young fast bowlers, with Marco Jansen leading the Sunrisers attack, while Gerald Coetzee and Nandre Burger will be the Super Kings’ spearheads.
Burger is keen on forming a fearsome new-ball partnership with Coetzee, pending his Proteas teammate having recovered from a pelvic inflammation that ruled him out of the recent second Test against India at Newlands.
“We have a pretty good relationship,” said the left-arm fast bowler. “It’s cool every time we get to bowl together. It’s a cool little partnership. I think we gel quite nicely, and I think we complement each other very well.”
Burger is equally excited about charging in at St George’s Park, with the famous brass band in full voice, even though he is on the opposition’s side.
“The band is incredible in terms of the atmosphere it creates. In fact, just the atmosphere this entire stadium creates. It is so cool every time you experience it. It’s unreal. I am so excited. The crowd is always buzzing.
“I find it so cool when a crowd gets involved in a game. It’s the coolest thing when you’re running in and the crowd is cheering.”
The Sunrisers, meanwhile, will be without the talismanic Roelof van der Merwe this season, but coach Adrian Birrell has strategically filled the breach in bringing Simon Harmer back to the Eastern Cape.
The wily off-spinner is an equally fierce competitor on the field and will provide a hard edge to the Sunrisers. Harmer was part of the first trade of the league, with Jon Jon Smuts moving in the opposite direction to Durban’s Super Giants.
“This is where my cricketing journey started as a 19-year-old moving down to Port Elizabeth from Pretoria,” Harmer said. “Gqeberha will always have a special place in my heart, playing in front of the band here, the stadium, the people, the friendly city, very easy going. It’s somewhere that I’ve always enjoyed playing and that I love.”
“Seeing the star above the badge, I want to be a contributor to that … It’s very exciting being the defending champions but the biggest thing for us is looking to win the trophy this year and not looking to defend our title.
“Looking from the outside last year and being involved this year, that’s one thing that the Sunrisers have in their corner is that it’s a bunch of good people, obviously with exceptional skills.
“I’m a very competitive person. I’m going to look to be true to myself and bring that competitive edge, but I definitely think it was a factor in me being in this seat today.”
The Sunrisers have, however, been hit by two late withdrawals with seamer Sisanda Magala and fast bowler Craig Overton ruled out through injury. Magala has been replaced by hard-hitting all-rounder Patrick Kruger.
Sunrisers Eastern Cape squad: Aiden Markram (c), Ottniel Bartman, Dawid Malan, Liam Dawson, Marco Jansen, Patrick Kruger, Tristan Stubbs, Brydon Carse, Temba Bavuma, Sarel Erwee, Jordan Hermann, Aya Gqamane, Adam Rossington, Tom Abell, Caleb Seleka, Beyers Swanepoel, Andile Simelane, Simon Harmer.
Joburg Super Kings squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Gerald Coetzee, Moeen Ali, David Wiese, Sam Cook, Zahir Khan, Leus du Plooy, Reeza Hendricks, Lizaad Williams, Nandre Burger, Donovan Ferreira, Aaron Phangiso, Sibonelo Makhanya, Kyle Simmonds, Wayne Madsen, Romario Shepherd, Dayyaan Galiem, Ronan Herrmann, Imran Tahir.