Cape Town – As you drove down Campground Road towards Newlands Cricket Stadium on Thursday, the queues of people standing in line at the Western Province ticket office immediately caught the eye. If you were looking for evidence of just what the Cape Cobras mean to the people of Cape Town, here it was.
At no other stadium in the country will you find this kind of interest ahead of a domestic final, not even at the Wanderers or St George’s Park. It is no wonder then that the Cobras have a 4-0 win record in finals at the grand old ground.
Former Cobras coach Shukri Conrad was fond of saying during his term at Newlands: “In Cape Town, people read the back pages before the front” and “when you pull up at Newlands on finals day, the hairs on your back stand up straight”.
That kind of expectation, though, brings its own unique kind of pressure. Just ask the WP rugby boys across the railway line, as they found out last year in the Currie Cup final before a packed house. It’s the pressure of expectation which comes with the Cobras almost always being billed as the favourites in the build-up to the final.
This type of pressure can inspire players, especially if they possess that all-important ingredient called big-match temperament, commonly known as “BMT”. However, it can also have a debilitating effect, with the “freeze factor” coming into play, especially amongst younger players. And this is what the Cobras need to be wary of heading into Sunday’s final against the Dolphins (start 2.30pm).
Throughout the RamSlam T20 Challenge, coach Paul Adams could chop and change as he wanted, with almost any XI he put out capable of trouncing the opposition due to the overflow of Proteas stars at his disposal. He even had the wildcard of West Indies superstar Sunil Narine to help the Cobras achieve their primary objective, which was to qualify for the lucrative Champions League T20 after a two-year absence.
But now with the silverware on the line, and the Proteas in camp ahead of the Australian Test series, the Cobras are going to rely on the youthful trio of Dane Piedt, SA Engelbrecht and Lizaad Williams to carry the torch in the showpiece. They will need all the guidance of “senior pros” like the two Justins (Kemp and Ontong), and of course Jacques Kallis in what is expected to be a high-octane environment on Sunday.
“I had a good chat with boys this morning. It centered a lot on calmness, staying cool, executing your skills. Obviously we are going to have Jacques there, so that will help a lot too,” former captain Kemp said on Thursday. “I think it helps that all of the guys have played for the Cobras before, guys like Piedtie, Lizzy, and of course SA. A final is a great opportunity for a young player to make a name for himself, grab his chance. I mean like SA has done really well in the Amateur side the last couple of seasons, and to have a crack in a final is a real chance to get back into the franchise system again.”
Likewise Ontong was equally optimistic of his team’s chances, with the skipper having full faith in the players coming in. “We’ve played good cricket throughout. There is no denying that the Proteas have made a big impact while they’ve been here, like JP (Duminy) and Hash (Hashim Amla) have scored the majority of the runs,” Ontong said. “But now the responsibility lies on all of us to make a big play for the team. We have all played in finals before, even the young guys.”
The Cobras have certainly been the dominant franchise in South African cricket over the past five seasons. Besides winning the first-class competition three times, the boys in blue and yellow have also collected three 1-Day trophies (two shared) and two T20 titles in this period. This success has helped a talent like Beuran Hendricks, the highest wicket-taker in the competition, blossom and reach his potential at a rapid rate.
“We would like to think the success we’ve had a team has created a culture where players want to excel, and the freedom to express themselves while learning from the older guys in the team. A guy like Beuran’s worked a lot with Charl (Langeveldt) and Johann (Louw) and that has helped his development. We want to leave a legacy here in the Cape that everybody will be proud of.”
Meet the Cobras Colts:
Dane Piedt, 23
A confident young off-spinner who has come through all the development structures at Western Province. The big time should not faze Piedt, especially as he claimed a “seven-for” on his franchise debut while still a 20-year-old. Has also played SA A cricket already.
Lizaad Williams, 20
An up-and-coming fast-medium bowler who has already made great strides in franchise cricket, despite being barely out of his teens. Williams, who hails from Vredenburg, was a promiment member of the Cobras attack throughout this season’s successful 1-Day Cup campaign.
SA Engelbrecht, 25
First caught the public attention as the “next Jonty Rhodes” with his stunning fielding and catching at the Under-19 World Cup in 2008. Was part of the Cobras’ maiden T20 title-winning side in 2008-09, but has been working his way back via the WP Amateur team since.
Aviwe Mgijima, 25
A bustling medium-pace bowler, Mgijima has played in all 10 league games, but has had limited oppportunity to show his skills. Whenever he has been called on, though, the UWC stalwart has not let the side down with a couple of timely strikes.
CAPE COBRAS SQUAD
Richard Levi, Jacques Kallis, Stiaan van Zyl, Justin Ontong (capt), Dane Vilas (wk), Justin Kemp, SA Engelbrecht, Dane Piedt, Aviwe Mgijima, Beuran Hendricks,Lizaad Williams, Shaheen Khan.