The Lions set the early pace in the competition with four impressive victories, before their unbeaten run was ended last week by the Chevrolet Knights in Potchefstroom. In a rain-interrupted match, the Lions scored 250 for seven before the Knights chased down a Duckworth/Lewis-adjusted target of 204 in 33 overs with six wickets and seven balls to spare, thanks to a brilliant partnership of 64 in 7.5 overs between Obus Pienaar and Ryan McLaren.
“We were obviously disappointed to lose, you never want a winning run to end, but it was one of those games where we didn’t do anything drastically wrong, but lots of small mistakes added up against us. But it was a great partnership between Obus and Ryan, the game was in the balance and they took it away. But it’s certainly not panic stations for us,” Lions captain Stephen Cook told Sapa on Monday.
The loss has allowed the Nashua Titans to eat away at the Lions’ lead at the top of the log, with the north-eastern Gautengers now trailing by six points. The Dolphins are in third place, nine points behind the Lions and Cook recognises the importance of returning to winning ways.
“It’s incredibly difficult to go through a competition unbeaten, that would mean winning 11 straight games, but obviously our goal is to finish first on the log and in that way qualify directly for the final. But the games come thick and fast in this competition and it’s important that we focus on one at a time,” Cook said.
The Lions have traditionally done well when they travel to Durban, the pitch often being similar to what they have at the Wanderers.
“We’ve generally done well at Kingsmead, the pitch has bounce like at the Wanderers, even though it’s been more tennis ball bounce lately. But the beauty of the franchise system is that every team is strong and we expect the Dolphins to be tough to beat, especially after two wins. We want to do well both at home and away and we will have to be right on our game to beat them,” Cook said.
The Lions saw off the Dolphins by 89 runs in their match in Johannesburg, but the KwaZulu-Natalians have beaten the Knights and the Titans since then and Cook sees them as a real threat.
“I sense a bit of a resurgence in their team. They played good cricket earlier in the season but just didn’t quite get over the line. But they have dangerous bowlers and hitters.”
The in-form Lions opening batsman singled out the Dolphins attack – and Kyle Abbott, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the “skilful” Robbie Frylinck and pacy Craig Alexander in particular – as key factors and much will depend on how the visitors’ batsmen fare at Kingsmead.
The use of experienced spinners in Nicky Boje and Werner Coetsee in the middle overs was how the Knights stymied the Lions batting in their only defeat thus far, but the Dolphins do not have slow bowlers of the same pedigree.
The Lions will be hoping both opening batsman Gulam Bodi and fast bowler Hardus Viljoen recover quickly from their fitness problems.
Bodi is expected to be back at the top of the order after missing the Knights loss due to illness, but Viljoen had to see a doctor on Monday and the competition’s leading wicket-taker is doubtful for the game in Durban.
Cook said the Lions had full confidence, however, in back-up pacemen Ethan O’Reilly and Garnett Kruger.
With the rare taste of defeat in their mouths, the Lions will be keen to return to the winning path and the Dolphins can expect sharp and motivated opposition on Wednesday.