Maynard thrilled with 'incredible year'
Nashua Titans coach Matthew Maynard said his players' dedication and ability to rise to the occasion had been the shining lights of their MiWay T20 Challenge campaign that culminates in the final against the bizhub Highveld Lions at the Wanderers on Sunday.
"The intensity in practice has been sensational, as good as I've come across, and I'm delighted that they've been rewarded for their efforts. Trophies are what is expected in professional sport and I've been blessed with a very good squad. Managing the guys who've been away and come back is always a challenge, but when Faf du Plessis and Jacques Rudolph have come back, they've been highly motivated to succeed.
"It's been an incredible year. Ever since I arrived from a foreign land, I've felt so welcome. The first phase was getting to know the players and the first thing that struck me was how driven they are. I just had to create an environment for them to thrive in, I'm very much an empowering coach, leaving the onus on them. The players have been absolutely fantastic and I couldn't have asked for more as a coach in terms of how they've gone about their work," Maynard said.
The Titans reached the final in the most dramatic circumstances at SuperSport Park last weekend, after they seemed to have once again wrecked their chances with a poor batting display. But Farhaan Behardien pushed them close and Alfonso Thomas hit the last ball of the 20 overs for six to force a Super Over decider, in which he and Behardien once again shone.
"We've got through some tight situations this season, starting in Paarl in the SuperSport Series when we had a very difficult chase and Albie Morkel made an unbeaten half-century. That was a massive defining moment and then we prepared a filthy green pitch against the Dolphins because we had to win outright, but we lost the toss and had to bat first and Heino Kuhn smacked 128 to put them on the back foot and Faf then scored 157 to get us plenty of bonus points.
"And then it was an incredible way to reach the T20 final and we've had to let it sink in. But this is a great bunch of players, they're very self-motivated and there's a lovely balance between those who have won before and the youngsters. They've done the key things right in the tight games," Maynard said.
During their years of promising much but eventually failing at the final hurdle in T20 cricket, the Titans were generally fast out of the blocks before fading at the business end of the tournament. But this season, they have slowly built their way to peak form ahead of the crucial final two matches, winning their last four games.
The Titans now look such a settled, in-form and slick unit that it seems national stars AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel, Jacques Rudolph and Marchant de Lange will be left on the sidelines for Friday's final.
"I will need to sit down with them and see how fatigued and motivated they are. It's a very tough call, because it affects the balance of the side, but it's all about how motivated they are to play. It can also be hard on them because the levels of expectation will be very high, but they'll be fatigued after a long tour and a long flight. You only need to be 2% off your best to not be able to perform in a final," Maynard said.
South African captain Graeme Smith was showing the effects of that long flight when he arrived back in Johannesburg late on Wednesday afternoon and he said it was a very tough ask for his team-mates to play on Sunday.
"I feel like I've been flying for four days, so I feel for the guys playing on Sunday. Your sleep patterns are a mess and it's not just about game day, but also the training beforehand. It took us time to find our feet when we flew to New Zealand, about seven or eight days," Smith said.
There has been speculation that the Titans played their "final" in their thrilling qualifying playoff against the Knights, but Maynard said their focus will be firmly on Sunday's actual final.
"For every franchise, first-class team in England, state in Australia, New Zealand or the West Indies, it's exactly the same thing, it's our version of Champions League football to qualify and play against the best in the world. You don't get that opportunity very often and financially, it's obviously a massive boost for the union.
"But we won't be relaxing, there are a couple of new T20 Proteas [Behardien and Du Plessis] who have a lot to prove, and winning the final would be the cherry on top of the cake," Maynard said.