The Dolphins come to Centurion to take on the Unlimited Titans on Thursday fresh off an excellent victory over the defending champion Nashua Cape Cobras and eager to continue improving in their challenge for the Sunfoil Series title.
The KwaZulu-Natal side hammered the Cobras by eight wickets at Newlands to rise to second on the log, overtaking the Titans and leaving themselves 17.24 points behind the bizhub Highveld Lions with three rounds of the four-day competition remaining.
The clash at SuperSport Park in Centurion is practically an eliminator to see who will be the Lions’ chasers heading into the final straight of the Sunfoil Series.
“We’ve had some good days and we’ve fought our way through to where we have a shout. But now we need more consistency and if we can put together two good days in a row, that’s generally when you win matches,” Dolphins coach Lance Klusener told The Citizen on Wednesday.
Young pacemen Mathew Pillans and Daryn Dupavillon have responded in excellent fashion to the burden placed on their shoulders, while left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj is fresh off a 10-wicket haul at Newlands.
The batting has not been as spectacular, but Imraan Khan, capped once for South Africa, has accumulated 551 runs this season with two hundreds and three fifties, fellow opener Divan van Wyk is averaging over 40, and Morne van Wyk, Cody Chetty and Daryn Smit are all dangerous with the bat.
The Titans will boast a menacing new-ball attack in the form of David Wiese and fit-again Marchant de Lange, with left-armer Rowan Richards and either Ethy Mbhalati or Junior Dala in support.
While not saying the pitch will be a snakepit, Titans coach Rob Walter is confident there will be a result-wicket at SuperSport Park.
“Neither team wants a dull draw and there aren’t many of those anyway at Centurion. I think it will be a good, even contest that will go four days, hopefully like the last two games of last season,” Walter said.
The Titans finished last season strongly by beating the Knights by 32 runs and the Warriors by 87 runs, and a similar showing now could see them sneak up on the Lions, who are currently 19.22 points ahead of them.
Wiese performed miracles with the ball in those two games, with combined figures of 16 wickets for 204 runs, backed by leg-spinner Shaun von Berg and De Lange.
Von Berg’s current form – 17 wickets at an average of 48.11 – does not inspire too much confidence and he has been serving up runs at 3.5 to the over, but Walter said surfaces thus far this season have not offered him much assistance.
In terms of the batting, Roelof van der Merwe has been inspirational with 657 runs at 59.72, including three centuries, while Theunis de Bruyn is a rising star and Dean Elgar is due a big score.
Walter says his team needs to rectify some sloppiness that crept into their game in their last encounter, a 170-run defeat at the hands of the Cobras in Paarl.
“We had them in the first innings but then we weren’t clinical enough at the end to close out the innings. We also batted very well at the start before falling apart, so we need to be mentally stronger and make sure the opposition has to work hard for anything they get,” Walter said.
While the Highveld Lions are sitting pretty at the top of the log, coach Geoff Toyana is wary of either the Dolphins or Titans creeping up on them and says his team have to keep winning as they travel to Bloemfontein to take on the Chevrolet Knights.
“We’ve played some decent cricket, but we have to keep winning, every game is a big game,” Toyana said.
The Lions could have closed the door on their chasers in their last match, when they were held to a draw by the Warriors, finishing just 17 runs short of a meagre 98-run target, and they will be eager to return to winning ways at this crucial stage of the season.
The Lions went down to the Knights by 143 runs in their home fixture in Potchefstroom, contriving to be bowled out for 137 in their second innings after leading by 101 on first innings.
Off-spinner Werner Coetsee took four for 34 to hasten the Lions’ collapse to their only defeat of this campaign, and the visitors are going to have to adapt better to what Knights coach Sarel Cilliers said would be a dry pitch at Chevrolet Park.
Whatever the result, the Bloemfontein public will be treated to the sight of the best pace attack in franchise cricket with Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada and Hardus Viljoen all in great form for the Lions. Dwaine Pretorius, who took eight wickets in three games before injuring his back, is back in the squad as well.
Eddie Leie is the chief spinner for the Johannesburg-based franchise but has struggled on unresponsive surfaces, taking just six wickets at 55 runs apiece. He will hope to bounce back to top form in friendlier conditions in Bloemfontein.
Cilliers said batsmen not making big scores and missing opportunities in the field were the two factors preventing his team from making a stronger challenge in the Sunfoil Series.
“There are a couple of critical things we need to get right again. We need to score big runs when the opportunity presents itself: We’ve had 22 scores of more than 30 in the last three games but no centuries. And we need to take our opportunities in the field because we’ve bowled with control,” Cilliers said.
The other match of the third-last round is at Newlands, where the Cobras host the Chevrolet Warriors.
The Cobras have struggled with so many players on international duty and are currently bottom of the log, with just one win in seven matches.
Stiaan van Zyl motored to a century in his last innings and if Dane Vilas, Justin Ontong and Andrew Puttick can show their best form, then the Cobras can post the sort of score that their attack, which has shown great potential this season, can capitalise on.