Tide of optimism sweeps through Bullring
There's a refreshing new attitude at The Bullring, a sweeping tide of optimism led by coach Geoffrey Toyana and endorsed by captain Stephen Cook. A second final at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in the space of two months is proof that things are changing on the field, too.
"I've been here for 12 years," says Cook. "I've been through many different coaches and captains. You go through different phases, each bring strengths and weaknesses. Geoff and I know we haven't been perfect throughout this competition, but we're not scared to make mistakes," said Cook ahead of the Momentum Cup One-Day Cup final on Friday.
It’s this new attitude that the bizhub Highveld Lions are hoping will be enough to take them to their first domestic trophy since the 2003/04 season when they take on the star-studded Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras in two days’ time.
Coach Toyana speaks enthusiastically when explaining his coaching philosophy. "The biggest thing is to give guys responsibility. I just try to keep things relaxed, and the guys have responded well."
One player who has responded especially well to the extra responsibility is the skipper himself, whose outstanding form in the competition has been a revelation of sorts for a man often not recognised for his limited-over batting.
"The criticism was perhaps that I scored too slowly and needed time to build my innings," was the honest opinion from Cook. "I've had to find ways to be a little more attacking, and score runs in different ways. I'm never going to be the guy to hit it out of the ground for six, so I've got to find other ways of scoring relatively quickly."
The opener certainly has found those ways, it would seem. He has consistently been in the runs this season, gathering 427 of them at an average of 61 with two hundreds and two fifties in his eight innings. Throw in a healthy strike rate of 91.82 and it becomes clear that Cook has been a vital part of the Lions' success this season.
"I don't think I ever wasn't a one-day batsman, it’s just perhaps the combinations over the years didn't suit my style of play," added Cook. "Obviously the 50 over format suits my game a lot more now - and to be fair, I've worked pretty hard over the years to develop my game."
Elsewhere, the signs are good throughout the squad, with Quinton de Kock and Aaron Phangiso both pressing for higher honours. "We're excited for them if it does happen," enthuses Toyana. "They've worked hard. Aaron was a star for us in the Champions League T20, but for the last three years he's been our banker. Aaron is 28 years old now, and he understands his game. He's matured as a cricketer and as a person."
The team seems to be in a healthy space, with all players making contributions both on and off the field. "We've always had a good team-spirit," said Cook. "Even in the darker years, we've kept a sense of humour which is important. It was really evident in the Champions League T20, when the guys on the bench were out of their seats and really up for the win."
Beaten finalists in that competition, the men from Johannesburg will be looking to go one better come Friday at The Bullring.