Lions aim to keep their nose in front
The Sunfoil Series has reached the business end. With two rounds of matches remaining, the bizhub Highveld Lions take a three-point lead into their match against the Chevrolet Knights at the De Beers Diamond Oval this weekend, with their noses just ahead of the Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras and the Chevrolet Warriors.
The Knights are lying in fourth place, 19 points adrift of their visitors.
Being top of the log is a feel good experience for Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana. "It's a nice feeling and the boys are happy to be top of the log. We have worked hard for this."
Earlier captain Stephen Cook spoke about the winning culture which the Lions have adopted this season. Toyana says there will be no change in the attitude of his team as they enter the home straight of their campaign, and he is backing his team to the hilt after the many disappointments of previous seasons.
"This team is too good not to win anything. Playing this brand of cricket will not always work. We had a bad day against the Warriors when we were bowled out for 50, but the boys have put that behind them with a string of good results."
That they certainly have done. Since the ten-wicket defeated inflicted by the Warriors, the Lions have toppled the previously unbeaten Cobras and, but for bad weather at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium, would have beaten the Nashua Titans twice in back-to-back matches in the past fortnight.
They go into the Kimberley encounter unchanged from the team which beat the Titans in Benoni. Imran Tahir has served his suspension but has now returned to the Proteas squad, while Quinton de Kock is back from international duty but has his suspension to serve in the aftermath of the acrimonious Newlands match. Dominic Hendricks, therefore, retains his place.
He and Neil McKenzie were the only batsmen to impress at Sahara Willowmoore Park and the Lions were fortunate that their contributions were enough to trump a sorry batting performance from the Titans.
McKenzie's efforts have taken him into top spot in terms of must runs in the season, having now taken his tally to 576.
The bowling unit is looking pretty impressive. Hardus Viljoen, Chris Morris and Cliffe Deacon all had telling spells. Deacon missed the first half of the season with a knee injury, and has made a big impact on his return. Toyana is particularly pleased with the extra depth he brings to the batting line-up.
Sunfoil honours are not totally out of the question for the Knights, but coach Sarel Cilliers is not overoptimistic. "For us to win the Series would require a massive task. We are looking ahead to the rest of the season and are taking one game at a time. We are hoping to end in a good position."
One of the major problems facing the Knights has been the inconsistency of the top-order batsmen. While Ryan Bailey and Rudi Second have both recorded double centuries, they have between them only managed a single fifty in a combined total of 13 other innings. Too often the batting salvation has had to come down the order. The Knights have staged some remarkable recoveries, illustrated by Johan van der Wath's career best 154 while Dillon du Preez is averaging 51 from a lowly No 9 while also picking up fourteen wickets to date.
Another player to catch the eye is Malusi Siboto. He has made valuable contributions with the bat, but Cilliers is particularly pleased with his contributions with the ball. "Malusi is developing well in all formats of the game. We are now relying on him to keep things quiet, or to take wickets, depending on the game situation." He has been impressive, with twenty wickets to his name at an excellent average of 22.
The Knights have included opening batsman Gihahn Cloete, while Werner Coetsee (eye operation) and Van der Wath (suspension) return to the team after brief absences.
Play starts at 10 am on Thursday.