Johannesburg – The Highveld Lions have barely disguised their hunger to win the Ram Slam T20 Challenge final at the Wanderers on Sunday, and Titans coach Matthew Maynard believes the pressure is subsequently on the home side.
The Lions have been the frontrunners in T20 cricket for the last two seasons, convincingly topping the round-robin log in both 2012 and 2013, but last year they slipped up in the final against the Titans and lost the chance to win their first outright title since 2006/07. They were also beaten in the final of the Champions League in October by the Sydney Sixers.
“I think there's a bit more pressure on the Lions. They're really desperate to win a trophy,” Maynard said.
“We're just going to go out there and enjoy the occasion, like last year, and there's no stress.
“The guys just have to play like they have been and they know how to win finals.”
Lions coach Geoff Toyana said the hosts were eager to finish off the campaign with a trophy.
“The whole season we've played good, consistent cricket and now we just need some luck. Hopefully it will be third time lucky for us,” Toyana said.
“The guys have been giving me hell, saying we have to win this one.”
The key for both teams will be how their batting line-ups handle the opposition bowling up front, with the Lions and Titans boasting the two strongest attacks in the competition.
For the Lions, Hardus Viljoen, Sohail Tanvir, Aaron Phangiso and Chris Morris are in the top five wicket-takers in the competition this season.
“Our bowlers have been very important, especially since we've generally gone into games a batsman light,” Toyana said.
“They've pulled us through a few times, like in Durban when we defended 130 on a good pitch.
“Our two spinners (Phangiso and Imran Tahir) have been quality and Tanvir, Morris and Viljoen have bowled as quickly as anyone.”
The Titans, meanwhile, are delighted to have Morne Morkel back in the fold and the international star has taken eight wickets in just three matches.
“Having Morne back is a massive bonus and probably the best two attacks are now in the final,” Maynard said.
“Where the Lions have done very well is in building partnerships and not losing wickets up front.
“Our job is to put them under pressure and try to expose that middle-order to a newish ball.”
The Lions are a cosily settled outfit with captain Alviro Petersen the only player who has returned from international duty. Left-arm paceman Tanvir is back from Pakistan and available again, while the home team's only selection issue is whether to choose Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma or Gulam Bodi up front.
For Maynard, the Titans selection is about having all-rounders who can bat anywhere.
“The big thing is to get our bowling attack right and we're blessed to have adaptable all-rounders like Roelof van der Merwe and Albie Morkel,” Maynard said.
“Both teams have strong middle-orders Ä they might not be out-and-out batsmen, but they're good hitters.
“And having Heino Kuhn keep wicket and bat up front allows us to bat slightly deeper as well.” – Sapa