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Ken Borland

Central Gauteng Lions batsmen show there is light at the end of the batting tunnel

Posted on December 30, 2023 by Ken

There has obviously not been too much to get excited about lately in terms of South African batsmanship, but the Central Gauteng Lions are showing that there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel.

They clinched the One-Day Cup title shortly before the New Year with the most powerful of batting displays in the final at the Wanderers – amassing 358/5 to beat Western Province by 62 runs.

It was no one-off either – the Lions won seven of their eight games in the 50-over competition thanks to their batting. Their top seven all averaged over 40 and the lowest strike-rate was the 78.62 of opening batsman Josh Richards, who generally played the anchor role.

Ryan Rickelton was the leading run-scorer in the tournament with 452, 91 ahead of Tristan Stubbs; while Evan Jones, the finisher, averaged 148 with a strike-rate of 149.

But beyond just the sheer scale of the numbers, what was just as impressive about the Lions’ batting effort was the clear growth that was evident in all of their individual games. It was not that long ago that the Gauteng batting line-up was considered too top-heavy for white-ball cricket, while last season it was their top-order that struggled.

Coach Wandile Gwavu and his assistants deserve great credit, and Gwavu said there was a moment in the final when they were able to ponder and appreciate just how far they have come.

“I was actually having a conversation with Ryan Rickelton and Wiaan Mulder during the game and we were admiring the growth in individual games that we were seeing. We spoke about how much everyone had invested in the growth of their own technical games and as human beings,” Gwavu told The Citizen.

“What’s stood out for me in the last four years has been how the batsmen have learnt to understand their games and their roles.

“And we’ve also mastered how to play at the Wanderers, the majority of our six hundreds were scored there. We’ve got to know our own conditions and how to dominate, the batsmen make sure they stand up and be matchwinners. If it’s difficult to bat there for other people, then we have the inside lane.

“Last season when we won the tournament the bowlers dominated for us, but this year was the opportunity for the batsmen to step up. Last season we were always three down for nothing, so it shows we have adapted.

“Especially batting against spin, which has often been a Lions problem. This season it was a stand-out how we played spin away from home – neutralising the likes of George Linde at Newlands, Prenelan Subrayen at Kingsmead and the Warriors attack in Gqeberha,” Gwavu said.

The bowling effort was also special, however. Spinner Bjorn Fortuin and seamers Malusi Siboto, Wiaan Mulder, Lutho Sipamla and Sisanda Magala were just a relentless unit. Magala, who is almost always bowling in the powerplay, was the most expensive of the quintet, going for 6.30 runs-per-over, but he was the leading wicket-taker with 17 in seven matches.

Fortuin and Siboto, who took 12 wickets along with Sipamla, both conceded less than five runs an over.

“Our attack took every opportunity to put the opposition under pressure,” Gwavu said. “There are a lot of good players in that attack, but they all had very clear bowling roles and responsibilities. We were very particular about which players we used in which conditions.

“The standout for me was how we bowled at the death. I knew we could take wickets, but we were also always very calm in our execution,” Gwavu said.

The coach said another mistake fixed this season was one of his own. Although the Lions had a clear core of first-choice players, other squad members, like Tladi Bokako, Duanne Olivier and Liam Alder, were mixed into that

“I made the mistake in the T20 competition of playing the same team all the time, so that was also one of the learnings,” Gwavu said. “You only know how good players are if you give them more opportunity.

“You’re never going to win a competition with just 11 players because you always have injuries or someone off-form. You need to be able to shift players around.

“Dominic Hendricks [the captain] managed it all very well on the field as well,” Gwavu said.

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