The Nelson Mandela Bay Giants will be on a mission to win over the local cricket fans when the Mzansi Super League gets underway in South Africa later this month.
The Giants, under the guidance of coach Eric Simons and captain Jon-Jon Smuts, will play their first home game at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on 23 November against the Durban Heat, who themselves will open their programme six days earlier against the Jozi Stars in Johannesburg.
A former national coach and player, Simons said he had often experienced the festive crowds at St George’s, the country’s oldest Test venue.
‘The atmosphere at the ground is going to be crucial as there is a real vibe in the stadium,’ he said. ‘Everyone talks about the local flavour created by the band and the intimate nature of the ground and I have no doubt that can be an extra man for us.
‘It is important to win the fans over and you do that by playing exciting cricket. Obviously winning helps, so creating a favourable impression is a big priority for our squad.’
Simons added that he was quite happy with the conditions at St George’s Park, which he felt had become more versatile in recent years.
‘Traditionally it had lower and slower surfaces, but having watched things over the last few years I believe it is quite capable of offering us different pitches which will be conducive to good cricket.’
One of the major challenges in a tournament of this nature, said Simons, was to transform a group of individuals into a cohesive unit in a short period.
‘That is the first step for any coach in this situation,’ he said. ‘Admittedly it has become a little easier because the experience of playing in the IPL [Indian Premier League] has meant players are getting accustomed to the requirements of the job.’
Simons added that it was a bit more difficult in South Africa because many of the local players lagged behind a bit in that respect as they were not exposed to tournaments such as the IPL.
‘A lot of the coaching job is focused on getting people to know each other and to understand each other, so the first objective for me as a coach is to get them into a squad which works together.’
He said during the recruitment process they went as far as identifying players they felt would adapt best to fitting in with their teammates.
‘We want to know the players’ strengths and weaknesses so we can focus on that in the week’s build-up to the tournament.’
The Giants squad will assemble in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday 13 November and the tournament gets underway when the Cape Town Blitz host the Tshwane Spartans on 16 November.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Giants will be playing their first match away against the Jozi Stars at the Wanderers on Saturday 17 November at 19h00.
Their first home match at St George’s Park is a Day/Night match on Friday 23 November against the Durban Heat.
Tickets for the match are available at Ticketpro.co.za or at the St George’s Park Ticket Office.