JOHANNESBURG - One man doesn’t make a team - or so the old adage goes - but you wouldn’t be wrong to say that “as goes Jon-Jon Smuts, so go the Warriors” when the Eastern Cape franchise meet the Knights in the Momentum One-Day Cup play-off in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
In all the statistical categories bar fielding, Smuts is the Warriors’ top player: Leading run-scorer, leading wicket-taker, highest individual score - all belong to the 28-year-old skipper who this season got his first taste of the international arena when he represented the Proteas in the three T20 Internationals against Sri Lanka.
In the league encounters between the two sides, Smuts was the dominant performer.
When the Warriors defended 185 in Kimberley on February 25, it was Smuts, who’d top scored with 33, who produced the defining performance when claiming 4/4 in 5.3 overs as the Warriors won by 64 runs.
Three weeks later, at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth, he top scored with 132 as the Warriors won by six runs.
That came a week after he’d scored 173 against the Cape Cobras at Newlands in Cape Town - the second-highest score in this season’s one-day competition behind the Titans’ Aiden Markram’s 183 against the Highveld Lions.
Smuts is obviously in a rich vein of form this season.
He was equally as instrumental in the Warriors making it all the way to the final of the T20 Challenge earlier in the summer, so nullifying him, with the bat and the ball, will be crucial to the Knights’ chances today.
On paper, the Knights have greater depth in their side and the trio of Rudi Second, Dave Miller and Pite van Biljon have been the mainstays with the bat for them.
They are backed up by some good bowling. Marchant de Lange has led the attack well and Aubrey Swanepoel’s slow bowling has provided some good control in the middle overs.
Miller is obviously the big wicket the Warriors will be targeting.
On Thursday night against the Dolphins in Durban it took a piece of terrific craft from Imran Tahir to get rid of the prodigious left-hander.
Miller has clearly taken a step up as far as his batting is concerned this season and he’s scored runs in all formats and at international level, too. That kind of consistency has been missing from his game for most of his career and speaks to a greater maturity in his batting as well as personality.
Coming off a first-baller in the last game, Miller will expect to make a big impact on Saturday, and if that happens, Smuts will need to have the game of his life for the Warriors to qualify for their second limited overs final this season, against the Titans at Centurion on Friday (2pm).