The domestic first-class series which starts on Thursday has been given added impetus by the addition of struggling Proteas players ahead of the England Test series.
Heading the list is Hashim Amla, making his first appearance in a first-class match for the Cape Cobras, the franchise he joined in April 2013. His international commitments have kept him away from the first-class side since then.
But given the gruelling and dispiriting series against India, six Proteas players were released to play in the Sunfoil series to give them meaningful game time and help them readjust their sights from the turgid, turning tracks of India to the better-paced strips of South Africa.
Normally, the Proteas players would not be seen near a domestic game ahead of such an important series. But needs must, and it is their only chance of a ‘warm-up’.
The Cobras, who start their campaign against the struggling Knights, have particularly benefited from this change of policy. Also making an appearance at Newlands are JP Duminy, Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Piedt.
The rusty Knights, who ended rock bottom in the Ram Slam, and who are openly advertising for a coach, are in a wretched position, for they have lost two of their top players, Rilee Rossouw and Reeza Hendricks, to the South Africa A team which will play England in a warm-up match from Sunday in Pietermaritzburg.
The defending champions Highveld Lions, too, have Temba Bavuma returning to their ranks at the Wanderers. Although he opened for the Proteas in the fourth Test, he returns to the more familiar position in the middle order, where the Proteas selectors feel he is better suited. But they too, are shorn by the A team call-up, losing their inspirational captain Stephen Cook.
They play the Dolphins, who have lost Khaya Zondo and Keshav Maharaj to the A-team set-up.
the Proteas’ opening bat Dean Elgar returns for some game time with the Titans, which is just as well since they have lost Quinton de Kock, Chris Morris and Marchant de Lange for their hiome match against the Warriors.
This all puts the Cobras in a good position to make an early start in the Sunfoil series.
There must be mixed emotions for Cook, who led his team brilliantly to their first first-class trophy after a 15-year drought.
‘It’s important to start this competition well, because it’s actually quite hard to catch up at the back end,’ he said at the launch of the series. ‘It’s not like one-day cricket where you have to get a result; guys can play for the draw and prepare flatter pitches, which can make it harder to play for the win.’
Unfortunately for the Lions, he won’t be there to assist. But for him, higher honours beckon.