And, in keeping with Cricket South Africa’s new transformation targets, there will be a healthy sprinkling of Black African players to inspire township cricket fans.
Pacemen Junior Dala, who came across from the Lions to the Titans last year, and Ethy Mbhalati, and wicketkeeper/batsman Mangaliso Mosehle will play for the Titans, while in-form SA A batsman Temba Bavuma, seamer Pumelela Matshikwe and wrist-spinner Eddie Leie will be in action for the Lions.
It may just be a pre-season friendly, with all 13 squad members allowed to be used, but Roelof van der Merwe, one of the toughest competitors you will ever come across, believes there is much to be gained for the Titans if they can reverse last season’s result and beat the Lions on their home turf.
“Every game against the Lions, we like to beat them, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. It will be a good measure to see where we are in our preparations, especially for the bowlers because we really want to nail down our skills ahead of the new season,” Van der Merwe told The Pretoria News yesterday.
While much of the Titans squad will be shaking off the winter rust, even though they have been training hard in the nets for a couple of months, Van der Merwe is looking forward to bowling on a Dobsonville Oval pitch that looks similar to the West Indian wickets he has been plying his trade on while playing half-a-dozen games for the St Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League.
“The pitch looks a bit dry and slow, so I think we’ll play both frontline spinners, myself and Eden Links,” the left-arm orthodox bowler acknowledged.
With the rise of Shaun von Berg, Links did not get much chance for the Titans last season and he will be eager to put himself back at the forefront of coach Rob Walter’s thinking with a strong performance today.
While the likes of Von Berg and Graeme van Buuren, and the injured trio of Henry Davids, Albie Morkel and Rowan Richards, will obviously be back in the frame once the Titans open the Momentum One-Day Cup on October 10, today’s match is an important first step for several players with big seasons ahead of them.
For Dean Elgar, Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese and maybe even Heino Kuhn, there is the lure of the World Cup squad early next year, while Theunis de Bruyn, Vincent Moore and Heinrich Klaasen, all members of the highly-successful Tuks side, will want to show that they should be a part of the Titans’ season ahead.
For the Lions, the importance of starting the season well is even greater as they endured the most miserable of times in 2013/14.
The batting has an inexperienced look to it, with Stephen Cook, Gulam Bodi and Bavuma the only seasoned franchise players, while the pace attack will be led by Hardus Viljoen. Coach Geoff Toyana has chosen two of the talented up-and-coming pacemen in Gauteng to back up him and Matshikwe, in the form of Sean Jamison and Matthew Arnold.
The waiting is finally over for the 26 players involved in the eKasi Challenge and they will be looking to explode into action to provide the best sort of inspiration for the township spectators getting a rare glimpse of franchise cricket.
Highveld Lions: Stephen Cook, Gulam Bodi, Temba Bavuma, Yaseen Valli, Devon Conway, Nicky van den Bergh, Dwaine Pretorius, Sean Jamison, Hardus Viljoen, Pumelela Matshikwe, Eddie Leie, Rassie van der Dussen, Matthew Arnold.
Titans: Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Heino Kuhn, Farhaan Behardien, Roelof van der Merwe, David Wiese, Mangaliso Mosehle, Eden Links, Vincent Moore, Ethy Mbhalati, Junior Dala, Heinrich Klaasen, Tabraiz Shamsi.
*Play starts at 9.30am & will be broadcast live on SuperSport 2