Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince insists his players will take it one game at a time as they look to nail down the 4-Day Franchise Series title ahead of Monday’s clash with the Warriors at Newlands in Cape Town.
CAPE COBRAS VS WARRIORS
The hosts are in pole position for the first-class title after five wins from their first seven games of the season, and with just three matches remaining in 2018-19 they lead the pack by nearly 20 points.
The Cobras are on 140,04 points compared to the 120,62 of the second-placed Highveld Lions. The margin is even greater with the rest of the pack, their round eight opponents the Warriors next on the list, but more than 45 points behind the Cobras (94,60). However, Prince is not prepared to put the cart before the horse.
‘A win is 16 points, a loss is 10 points, so the 19.5-point lead we have can be turned around pretty quickly if things don’t go the right way. It’s one game at a time,’ said Prince.
‘We have to approach every game the same way, starting from 0-0 and build our way into the game, whether it’s batting or bowling, and in time, wrestle our way into a position of advantage in a game. That’s going to be the same for all three games.’
The Lions did gain some ground on the Cobras in the previous round when they won their game, and the Cobras were held to their first draw of the season away at the VKB Knights.
Prince was satisfied with the way they played in Bloemfontein, and his approach for the Warriors remains taking it ‘one day at a time’ in the Mother City. He may again have to go about proceedings without opening batsman Janneman Malan, with Zubayr Hamza also not available due to Test commitments with the Proteas.
Warriors coach Rivash Gobind, meanwhile, has confirmed that Sisanda Magala and Lutho Sipamla are in contention again after their recent injuries. For the Port Elizabeth-based team, victory is essential against the log leaders if they want to keep their ultra-slim title hopes alive.
‘We’re just trying to win each game now,’ said Gobind. ‘The Cobras are quite some way out at the front, so it’s out of our hands as to where we finish. But our goal remains to try and win as many of the remaining three games as possible.’
The two met in the last game of 2018 when the Warriors ran their Cape rivals close in PE, and the coach is looking for an improvement on that game.
‘We’ve had the same chat with the players as we had before the last game against them at the end of the year,’ he added. ‘We saw what happened there, the guys ran them pretty close, even though we didn’t play very well.
‘We are pretty confident that if we rock up in Cape Town and execute our skills over the four days like we did this past weekend, we should be able to get into a position to force a result.’
TITANS VS HIGHVELD LIONS
Titans coach Mark Boucher is expecting another tough battle against the Highveld Lions and says their focus will be on trying to improve their performance at Willowmoore Park in Benoni.
The champions have not enjoyed the best of title defences thus far, winning just once in seven matches to sit second bottom on the table. They have also lost the most games compared to everyone else and were on the wrong end of results four times already this term.
‘We can look for excuses as much as we want, but quite simply, we haven’t played good cricket in all departments,’ lamented Boucher. ‘It’s been frustrating. We’ve had to use a lot of players as well, 25 I think it is, so that doesn’t help, it’s tested our depth a bit. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and see how we can improve going forward.’
Their opponents, the Lions, are the closest challengers to the log-leading Cape Cobras, and currently trail by just under 20 points. The Johannesburg-based side will be looking to attack in their bid to win the game, but Boucher says they too may look to go out and take the game to the visitors.
‘The Lions have been playing good cricket and they’ve done it throughout the season,’ he said. ‘I think the reason they’re second is because the Cobras have just been that more consistent, but I’m not worried about them, I’m looking at improving our processes.
‘We’ll be looking to go out there and win, there’s no point playing for any other result.’
Boucher, whose side were beaten by the Warriors in the last game, also feels that the Cobras should win the title this year, but says there is still plenty for the other sides to play for.
‘If you look at the Cobras, they are streets ahead of everyone else, and if they play half decent cricket then they should walk away with the title,’ he added. ‘It’s going to be difficult for anyone to catch them.’
Lions coach Enoch Nkwe, meanwhile, saw his players bounce back from a defeat to the Dolphins at the end of last year with a crushing victory over the same opponents last weekend.
It left him pleased with their progress, and now he is seeking to keep the pressure on the Cobras at the summit, with their last win keeping his side ‘in the mix’.
‘It was a good display from the guys. We had some changes with guys like Wiaan Mulder and Kagiso Rapulana coming in and they added a lot of value with their contributions. It was a good all-round performance from the guys after what happened in the previous game. But we did put that to bed and the biggest focus was to start the year well, which we did.’
DOLPHINS VS KNIGHTS
Dolphins coach Grant Morgan says his side’s focus for the remaining three 4-Day Domestic Series games of the season remain on winning each match and also backing their young players to perform ahead of facing the Knights in Pietermaritzburg from Monday.
The KwaZulu-Natal franchise saw their outside hopes of challenging for the title fade away completely when they were beaten heavily by the Highveld Lions in the last game. The result left them bottom of the table on 71,72 points, remarkably almost half the tally of log-leaders the Cape Cobras (140,04).
Now they must regroup and try to improve at the City Oval against a visiting side that held the leaders to a draw in their previous game. The Central Franchise have a new coach in Alan Kruger, and Morgan believes this has buoyed them, warning that his Dolphins side will have to be on their toes for the round eight clash.
‘They’re a fighting unit, and always when there’s a new coach you see some change,’ he said. ‘You’ll see a resilience factor, a lot of those guys, their good players, so we’re expecting nothing less than a tough contest.’
As for his own side, Morgan says he wants to see further improvement from the last game where they were made to follow on against the Lions. He also revealed that they were looking to giving opportunities to new faces to stake a claim in the first-class set-up.
‘We’ve already started to look towards the future, and as you see, we’re starting to give a lot of the younger players a chance with an eye to the future,’ Morgan added. ‘I think if you look from the fifth game onwards, players like (Grant) Roelofsen and the like have had opportunities.
‘Names like (Keith) Dudgeon, (Ethan) Bosch and (Sibonelo) Makhanya are coming into the mix, and you’re seeing less of the older players like (Robbie) Frylinck, who hasn’t retired, but we’re looking at breeding younger players now.
‘The average age of our side for that last game was probably around 24, which is quite exciting.’
Knights coach Kruger, meanwhile, has predicted a tough battle for his team in the KZN Midlands.
‘We had a good performance against the Cobras and we’re just looking to continue in that positive way,’ he pointed out. ‘As I said last week, our aim is just to try and end up as high as possible on the table. We’re currently fourth with three others around us, so it will be a good mini-battle between now and the end of the season.
‘I’m sure it will be same for the Dolphins. They will also be eager to turn around their results against us in Kimberley a few rounds earlier, so it will be a tough battle.’
4-Day Domestic Series Table
Photo: Cricket South Africa