Cape Town – “It’s all about the Benjamins” is a line from Puff Daddy’s rap single, but it could just as easily fit with the Cape Cobras this weekend.
For all the prestige of winning the RamSlam T20 Challenge, all six franchises in South Africa will confess it is actually about qualifying for the final, for that brings with it a trip to the Champions League T20, and more importantly a guaranteed purse in excess of R2million.
To put it into perspective the bounty on offer, winning the RamSlam T20 Challenge itself only brings a cheque of R675 000.
The Champions League T20 cash has become the lifeblood for most domestic teams around the world, much like India’s outbound tours are for national boards.
The Cobras, despite their galaxy of stars and dominance in South Africa’s two other competitions, have missed out on the riches for the past couple of seasons. This has severely impacted on the bottom line down here in the Western Cape, and Cobras coach Paul Adams and his captain Justin Ontong are fully aware that failure to qualify is a non-negotiable factor this season.
After last year’s debacle, where the Cobras actually finished last – despite having two overseas professionals – the team have shown much better form in the shortest version of the game, and actually sit atop of the RamSlam T20 log with a two-point lead on the second-placed Dolphins.
Qualification for next week’s playoff – if required – has virtually been secured, with the Cobras having to lose against both the Highveld Lions on Friday at the Wanderers and the Warriors at Newlands on Sunday to be totally out of the knockout stages. The third-placed Warriors would also have to win with a bonus point and lift their net run-rate above the Cobras, which should be highly unlikely.
But such complex permutations and a possible playoff game is not what should be occupying the Cobras’ thoughts right now.
They have their fate in their own hands and can simplify matters. Beat both the Lions and Warriors and Cricket South Africa, with its marketing team, can prepare for a RamSlam T20 final on Sunday, February 9 at Newlands.
One hiccup along the way, though, and the in-form Dolphins will be right there to pounce, just like they did last week when they stunned the Cobras at Boland Park in Paarl.
Lance Klusener’s team, despite stealing defeat from the jaws of victory last Sunday against the Warriors, can still hijack the loot if they beat both the Knights and Lions – both who have nothing left to play for in the competition.
Their captain Morné van Wyk is a smooth operator, and has galvanised the sleeping giant of South African cricket with runs of his own. Van Wyk struck an unbeaten 50 to mastermind a successful run-chase against the Titans on Wednesday and has motivated young charges like Cody Chetty and Khaya Zondo since his move to the east coast from Bloemfontein at the beginning of the season.
But as any good sprinter will tell you, looking over your shoulder when you are ahead, can often lead to being pipped at the post, and that is not what the Cobras want to be found guilty of this weekend.
The Cobras are a good team who have been the most consistent side throughout the league phase. Now they just need to show they can handle the pressure of big games to ensure they get their hands on the jackpot.
The Lions are a team in disarray, with controversy and poor selection resulting in a winless season thus far.
Pakistan seamer Sohail Tanvir and batsman Gulam Bodi have dropped out of the squad, as have Proteas players Alviro Petersen and Thami Tsolekile. Stephen Cook, Temba Bavuma, Pumelela Matshikwe and Devon Conway have all come in, while Neil McKenzie will stand in as captain.
Last year’s champions would be desperate to get a tick in the win column, but like the Cobras discovered the last two seasons, when things are not rosy off the field, it hardly ever goes right out in the middle.
The two-times champions need to capitalise on the current chaos in the Lions camp on Friday, and only then start focusing on returning to Newlands on Sunday to finish the job that will ensure everybody involved at the Cape franchise walks with a little bit of an extra zip in their step on Monday.
Friday: Dolphins vs Knights, Durban; Highveld Lions vs Cape Cobras, Johannesburg
*Both games start at 6pm
Sunday: Cape Cobras vs Warriors, Newlands; Knights vs Titans, Kimberley; Highveld Lions vs Dolphins, Johannesburg
*All games start at 2.30pm
P W L T N/R Pts Nett RR
Cobras 8 6 2 0 0 25 +0.990
Dolphins 8 5 2 1 0 23 +0.277
Warriors 9 3 3 2 1 20 +0.059
Titans 9 4 4 0 1 18 -0.208
Knights 8 3 4 0 1 14 -0.570
Lions 8 0 6 1 1 5 -0.670