The New Age Impi are a “best-of-the-rest” composite side drawn from those players not being used by the six franchises, but callow youth and lack of big-game experience are not adjectives you’d use to describe them.
Collingwood, who led England to the World T20 title in 2010, and Dutch star Ryan ten Doeschate are the headline players in a 13-man squad that includes players like Adrian McLaren, Richard Cameron, Charl Pietersen, Craig Alexander, Pumelela Matshikwe and Ryan Canning, who have all seen plenty of franchise action.
Despite the high stakes on offer in the T20 Challenge – first and foremost two spots in the Champions League – Impi coach Vincent Barnes said there had been no adverse reaction from the franchises and they had an agreement that players would return to the franchises or be offered to the Impi as circumstances demanded.
“The franchises have first call on the players, but we can also get more guys from them. We’ve got some experience, which does help, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for the guys, even though they’re going to be thrown into a hostile environment – next week some of them will be opening the batting against Dirk Nannes or bowling to Loots Bosman and Chris Gayle, after their last match was an amateur game in Paarl!
“But if they can make the step up, who knows where it could lead? Maybe the IPL will come knocking and we’re also eligible for the Champions League. There’s no doubt there’s a need for this sort of side that enables more players to get exposure,” Barnes said.
Collingwood, famous for being one of England’s grittiest batsmen in an international career that has spanned 68 tests, 197 ODIs and 35 T20s, promised that no quarter would be given by his composite side.
“As an international cricketer, you always like to be challenged, it gets the juices flowing, and I’m really excited about captaining a new team with a lot of youngsters. The hardest thing will be to gel together in a short space of time and to play three games in a week-and-a-half is a huge challenge. But sometimes when players are thrown in the deep end, they do quite well,” Collingwood said.
The 35-year-old all-rounder confirmed that making the final – and earning a Champions League spot – would be the Impi’s goal.
“We’re here to win, I’ll be drilling that into the boys, we’re not just going to turn up. If we can qualify for the Champions League and develop some youngsters at the same time, it will be a real bonus. I don’t believe T20 is a lottery – if you get the right strategies and the right players for the conditions, then you can get some momentum going,” Collingwood, who led England to a record eight successive T20 wins between May 2010 and January 2011, said.
And there is no doubting Collingwood’s own determination to produce the goods on the field because the loss of his place in England’s limited-overs team is clearly something he wants to rectify.
“Even though I’m 35, I still have ambitions to play for England and if I can produce six to eight months of good cricket then I might get back in the team. Playing here in South Africa is a big stage for me and I still have a three-year contract with Durham and my ambitions are still with England,” Collingwood said.
MiWay chief executive Ren? Otto said his company’s decision to sponsor this year’s T20 Challenge had been an “opportunistic” one.
“We discussed it with Sail during the Nedbank Golf Challenge in December and they followed up two weeks ago to tell us the sponsorship was available. The final decision was made on Friday, so it was an opportunistic one, it’s the way we run our business – when a good opportunity comes, we move on it. We are a short-term insurance company after all!
“But we’re very excited, it’s an awesome opportunity to expose our brand because we turn four this year and we’re the new kid on the block. But the typical T20 audience is young at heart, like MiWay, a bit provacative and a bit alternative,” Otto said.
The self-described “traditional” cricket-lover said critics of Cricket South Africa [CSA] should allow the Nicholson Inquiry to take its course before questioning the sense of sponsors getting involved in the sport.
“We don’t see why supporters of the game must suffer if things are going on in CSA, our commitment is to the public and we mustn’t punish cricket-lovers. They’re our potential clients.
“We feel that people should let the process take its course and people are innocent until proven guilty. Of course we would never condone anything untoward and if things are being run so badly that the game falls apart, then obviously we would have to relook at our involvement. But I’m a lawyer by trade and nobody has been hung out to dry yet. In any case, it’s about individual accountability and the sport itself should not suffer,” Otto said.
The New Age Impi squad: Paul Collingwood (Durham), Ryan ten Doeschate (Essex), Adrian McLaren (Griquas), Dominic Hendricks (Gauteng), Richard Cameron (Gauteng), Cobus Pienaar (Easterns), Charl Pietersen (Griquas), Khaya Zondo (KZN), Siyabulela Simetu (WP), Beuran Hendricks (WP), Craig Alexander (NW), Pumelela Matshikwe (Gauteng), Ryan Canning (WP).