Knights bid to stop the roaring Lions
The bizhub Highveld Lions, already runaway log leaders, will look to take a healthy lead into the second half of the Momentum One-Day Cup league competition by adding the Chevrolet Knights to their list of scalps at Senwes Park on Friday.
It has been a different story for the men from the central franchise. After a comfortable win in their opening match, they have slumped to two heavy defeats in their following matches. The margins of defeat might be concerning, but coach Sarel Cilliers is philosophical on the subject. “We need to focus on what we believe in and stick to the basics. It’s a simple recipe really. All defeats hurt, the close ones the most as they leave more questions because one mistake could have made the difference. The big defeats show us exactly where the problems are.”
He is hoping to see his team rebound from the latest setbacks in the same way the bizhub Highveld Lions shrugged off the hiding they received in the final of the Champions League T20.
The Chevrolet Knights will be led into battle by their third captain in four matches. Morne van Wyk’s shoulder injury is still not responding to treatment, and Dean Elgar has left to join the Proteas in Australia. Allrounder Ryan McLaren will be in charge. His form with the ball has been excellent, with nine wickets in three matches, while he has also shown signs of good form with the bat. His average is at a respectable 54 with a strike rate of close to 90.
Van Wyk’s normal opening partner in the one-day format, Reeza Hendricks, will also be absent. Hendricks has been getting the Chevrolet Knights off to some brisk starts, maintaining a strike rate of better than a run a ball. But an injury in the field on Wednesday afternoon against the Sunfoil Dolphins has seen him side-lined as well.
The Chevrolet Knights have called up fast bowler Duanne Olivier as well as Aubrey Swanepoel. The latter will probably bat up the order, and is a useful offspinner. Rilee Rossouw is also showing some good form.
Nicky Boje and Dillon du Preez have both been among the wickets, although a bit on the expensive side, while the other veteran in the bowling attack, Johannes van der Wath, had a night to forget against the Sunfoil Dolphins.
They come up against a Lions outfit that is in superb touch, as their results attest. Stephen Cook is in the form of his life, piling up 283 runs already including two of his three career centuries at this level. He has not only scored big, but scored quickly with a strike rate of 95.9. He is 116 runs ahead of the next challenger (Andrew Puttick), and is miles ahead on the averages table as well.
He has been well supported by Gulam Bodi, Quinton de Kock and Neil McKenzie. The only moderate concern will be the current form of the middle-order should the top four fail.
The bowling has been in similar devastating shape. Hardus Viljoen has swept all before him, already claiming fourteen wickets at an average of just seven, and has been miserly as well with an economy rate of 3.3. Left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso was a revelation in the Champions League, and has continued that form with seven wickets despite not even getting a bowl in the rout of the Titans, and his economy rate of 3.1 is the best in the tournament.
Cook feels that being named captain in the absence of Alviro Petersen has sharpened his batting. “In a strange way, my batting has improved even though I am focusing more on the team. I did not play much of a role in the T20 squad, but I knew I had the ability to make an impact and kept training during the Champions League.”
The success of Hardus Viljoen, especially on the quickerHighveld wickets, has not come as a surprise. “We knew what impact he could make, especially playing with two new balls. He is tall and can exploit any movement in the pitch.”
Quinton de Kock is settling in well at the top of the order, and has easily taken up the role of a wicketkeeper/batsman in the style of an Adam Gilchrist, and gives the bizhub Highveld Lions more options at the top of the order. The Lions are a settled unit, and are relishing the habit of winning. Cook is not anticipating any changes to the team for tomorrow.
History does give the Chevrolet Knights more hope than the formbook. In 17 previous encounters, the Chevrolet Knights have won twelve and the bizhub Highveld Lions just four, with one washed out. At Potchefstroom the bizhub Highveld Lions have enjoyed more success, winning eight out of sixteen (one no result) against all opponents as compared to an overall record of 30 wins to 50 losses.
The Chevrolet Knights’ last visit to Senwes Park was in 2010. Although Rossouw hit 102 in an imposing total of 259 in what was then a 40 over competition, the bizhub Highveld Lions snuck home by three wickets.
Cook has not seen the pitch yet, but by all accounts another good batting wicket is to be expected, and the outfield is sure to be as lightning fast as always. Play starts at 15h00. Weather conditions are expected to be hot with only a slight chance of rain towards evening.