The Dolphins were awarded the One-Day Cup title last week, putting a bittersweet cherry on top of a promising first season for head coach Imraan Khan.
Khan had served as former head coach Grant Morgan’s assistant for two-and-a-half years, and his appointment signalled a desire from the Dolphins to maintain continuity.
He entered the role of head coach in an understated fashion, and his team’s celebrations of their first title have been muted by the coronavirus pandemic that forced the termination of the domestic season.
It is a shame that there was no glorious crowning moment at Kingsmead because Khan has made a great start to his time as head coach.
The Dolphins made a slow start to the 4-Day Domestic Series, failing to win a match before the Mzansi Super League break.
Khan had been tasked with improving the Dolphins’ four-day fortunes, but also had to integrate some fresh faces into a squad from which stalwarts Morne van Wyk and Mthokozisi Shezi retired in 2019.
There was undeniable quality in the group of players awarded their first Dolphins contracts at the outset of the 2019-20 season. Marques Ackerman is a player who has been earmarked as a future international since high school, while Grant Roelofson and Daryn Dupavillon enjoyed breakthrough seasons.
The Dolphins had blown their shot at the four-day title by the new year, but showed marked improvement in January. The early season must have been frustrating for Khan, as the Dolphins’ batting suffered frequent collapses and their new-ball bowlers struggled to make an impact.
Battling draws with the Knights in Bloemfontein and the Cape Cobras in Pietermaritzburg were the high points of the opening six rounds of four-day action.
As the season wore on and the playing surfaces with it, the Dolphins looked a stronger outfit thanks to their spin-bowling arsenal.
The season turned positive for the Dolphins in Oudsthoorn, where they completed a sensational fightback to down the luckless Cobras. A fighting half-ton from Andile Phehlukwayo helped the Dolphins hang on in the face of a George Linde six-wicket haul.
In Oudsthoorn, the Dolphins found themselves with their backs to the wall, but new recruit Roelofson came through with a big second-innings ton. His 142 came in good time and allowed skipper Ackerman to make an attacking declaration. In the fourth innings, the Cobras could find no answer to Senuran Muthusamy’s left-arm spin, and the Dolphins earned their first win of the four-day season in style.
Fifth place wouldn’t have been what Khan wanted out of the 4-Day Domestic Series, but the Dolphins were denied an opportunity to improve their position by the shutdown that handed them their first outright List A title since the 2001-02 season.
The four-day campaign may have been frustrating, but there was promise as the young guns led a rally that carried over into the One-Day Cup.
For the One-Day Cup, Proteas spinner Keshav Maharaj took over the captaincy, and the Dolphins found the ruthless streak missing from their first-class season. Sarel Erwee and Roelofson provided the Dolphins with a fantastic platform, while Ackerman and former skipper Khaya Zondo were steady if unspectacular in the middle order.
Success in the One-Day Cup earned Maharaj an ODI recall and seamer Dupavillon a maiden call-up at international debut.
Khan seems to have an excellent group of young cricketers at his disposal and now needs to build on the promise shown when cricket returns.
The progress of young quick bowler Eathan Bosch could be the key to taking the Dolphins up a notch in the four-day game after the departure of Titans-bound Okuhle Cele. The Dolphins missed Bosch’s wicket-taking prowess in a season where the paceman struggled with injury.
Khan will want to build a batting unit around the likes of Ackerman and Roelofson, but must know it is only a matter of time before one or both of them break into the Proteas set-up.
Dolphins chief executive officer Heinrich Strydom should well be pleased with the head coach after Khan guided the Dolphins to One-Day Cup glory, but will expect progress next term.
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