With the Sunfoil Series set to get underway, we delved into all the franchise’s chances, featured in the latest edition of SA Cricket magazine.
It was surely pure coincidence that on the eve of Mark Boucher’s appointment as coach of the Titans, the outgoing Rob Walter tweeted: ‘As much as our ego likes the idea, the biggest failure as a leader is to take success with you, instead of ensuring it remains long after you.’
It is a noble sentiment, but much depends on the team building on the legacy of success; and Walter left behind a huge shadow, from which Boucher must emerge if he is to take the team forward.
It was a slightly strange appointment, for Boucher has no record in coaching, but a massive CV of achievement on the field. Since his horrific eye injury in 2012, he has principally amused himself on the golf course and pursued his passion for rhino conservation. Walter built his reputation patiently, was hugely respected by his players and was a proven mentor. Now he’s off to coach Otago in New Zealand.
There is a slightly jarring undercurrent to his announcement that ‘I have a young family and I wish to pursue a new coaching challenge in a different environment that will help me grow as a coach.’ Just five weeks before, the Titans named their squad for the coming season and Walter was talking enthusiastically of generating an atmosphere in which young players could grow. ‘My aim would be to create a culture and environment in which the squad can excel and fulfil their potential,’ he said, looking forward after what had been his most successful season since taking over in 2013.
He spoke enthusiastically of developing young players such as Jonathan Vandiar, the former SA U19 and SA A player, and Daniel Sincuba, from the Dolphins.
His excitement was obvious and unconditional when he declared: ‘I would like to transform Jonathan’s cricket skills and talent into performances’; and that ‘Daniel is still at an early stage of his development and I would like to generate the atmosphere for him grow.’
So it is in that surreal bubble that Boucher takes custody of the T20 Challenge and, more importantly, the Sunfoil Series title.
The Titans possess an impressive playing roster which includes such illustrious names as AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock. None of whom are likely to play a game for the franchise in anything but the T20 Challenge.
The Test series against Sri Lanka has been rearranged to give the Proteas players a chance to play in the T20 Challenge, a valiant attempt to add a bit of gravitas to the event; to make some effort to compete with the big leagues emerging throughout the world. But for the first 18 games of the 32-match series, the Proteas will be involved in a four-Test series in Australia, returning only in December.
Given that Albie Morkel has retired from first-class cricket, the leadership will come from David Wiese and Chris Morris (depending on the whim of the national selectors), new recruit Malusi Siboto – one of the leading bowlers in all formats for the Knights last season, and Test prospect Heino Kuhn, who scored over 1 000 runs last season.
The fizz will have to come from those rich in talent but short of experience, such as the unfulfilled former U19 captain Aiden Markram and his pacey teammate Lungi Ngidi.
They have to make up for the loss of Theunis de Bruyn, who, having been loaned out last season, cut his losses for the captaincy of the Knights, taking with him pace bowler Marchant de Lange, and the loss of wicketkeeper Mangaliso Mosehle, who has defected to the Lions.
The Knights seem to be making a vigorous push this season, for they have also lured Robin Peterson from the Cobras and David Miller from the Dolphins. They actually have a decent side, containing the experience of Rudi Second, Pite van Biljon, Rilee Rossouw, Werner Coetsee, Duanne Olivier and Shadley van Schalkwyk.
They had their ups and downs last season, losing their coach Sarel Cilliers early in the season and drafting in former Proteas spinner Nicky Boje as an interim coach; a position they made permanent in February.
He produced some good results, particularly in the first-class form, ending third, just 0.26 points behind the Lions. It is in the more lucrative short formats where they have to step up. They ended stone last in T20s and somewhat off the pace in the One-Day Cup in fourth, but that is where the injection of impetus from the likes of Miller will come in.
While on the theme of coaching changes, another franchise under pressure is that of the Dolphins, who also lost their coach in short order – and in acrimonious circumstances. Lance Klusener left abruptly in February, which may or may not have had something to do with the Dolphins finishing fifth in the One Day Cup and the Sunfoil Series. Without Kevin Pietersen scoring 364 runs in five games in the Ram Slam, one wonders if they would have finished second.
They brought in two interim coaches, Yashin Ebrahim and Roger Telemachus, before settling on Grant Morgan. He has a massive task on his hands, for the Dolphins have lost a lot of players: Ryan McLaren, who decided not to sign for a franchise, Kyle Abbott (to the Warriors), David Miller (Knights), and Mat Pillans, who has decided to try his luck overseas.
Not all is doom and gloom, however, as they do have experience in Cameron Delport, Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Morne van Wyk, and a host of young talent in Andile Phehlukwayo, Khaya Zondo and Keshav Maharaj. There are, though, no new impetus signings.
Morgan gained his coaching colours mostly at amateur levels, and as assistant coach to the Warriors last season.
‘I guess I’m also a bit of a maverick and can be quite gimmicky at times with charts, positive songs, notes, etc. But at the same time I’m all about trying to keep things simple whilst always trying to challenge the players,’ Morgan said on his arrival.
The Dolphins may need a bit more than that. And by the way, they lost their CEO, Pete de Wet, who is also taking his young family to New Zealand.
There has to be a huge question mark over the ability of the Lions to rise once again, to line up side by side with their rugby brethren as national champions.
They have a steady and calming hand at the helm in Geoffrey Toyana. In the absence of Walter, he is now the most astute and successful coach in the land. With Stephen Cook as captain, the Lions took the championship in some style in 2014-15, and despite the loss of a tranche of high quality and experienced players, still managed second place last season.
But the Lions have a pride issue, for their franchise was hardest hit by the Ram Slam match-fixing scandal. Thami Tsolekile, one of their stalwarts, has been banned for 12 years, along with his Lions teammates Jean Symes (seven) and Pumelela Matshikwe (10).
The Lions knew what was coming and, as they say in economic terms, ‘factored in’ their absence. They moved mid-term to secure the signature of Mangaliso Mosehle from the Titans as an alternative keeper to Nicky van den Bergh and Reeza Hendricks, a Proteas T20 player who has 10 years’ first-class experience with the Knights.
They will be without the services of Cook, Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada, now highlighting their names with the national side, and may be disrupted by a call-up for either of Aaron Phangiso or Eddie Leie. They certainly have experience in Alviro Petersen, Dominic Hendricks, Hardus Viljoen – the leading wicket-taker last season with 47 – and Dwaine Pretorius; and have an exciting prospect in Bjorn Fortuin who excelled in the SA Emerging side. But can they pull it together.
Another franchise staying with the tried and trusted are the underperforming Cobras, although they have lost Robin Peterson (to the Knights) and Justin Kemp, who has retired from first-class cricket after helping the Cobras secure 10 trophies in eight years.
They came home with nothing last year, although they really should have taken the One-Day Cup. Their campaign saw them top the log, but their performance against the Lions in the final was woeful. They were beaten by eight wickets without putting up a fight.
Instead, they have promoted some young and exciting talent from the semi-professional ranks: prolific batsmen Zubayr Hamza, Jason Smith and left-arm spinner George Linde. Whether that will be enough to turn their fortunes remains to be seen. This may be a season of consolidation. Excluding the national players such as Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander and Stiaan van Zyl, they should still have enough firepower in Dane Paterson, Omphile Ramela, Beuran Hendricks, Justin Ontong and Wayne Parnell. They also have Richard Levi and Rory Kleinveldt, who had a good season with Northants. So just why the Cobras failed to bite is a bit of a mystery. Are they up for the fight?
The question applies, too, to the Warriors, who have at least recruited Kyle Abbott, but he is also at the call of the national selectors. As capable a coach as Malibongwe Maketa is, boosted by his recent stint with South Africa A, the Warriors still look a little light for the four-day game, although they may hope to improve on their third-place finish in the One-day Cup and certainly on their fourth place in T20s.
Written by Mark Salter, a freelance sports writer at Highbury Safika Media