Although it remains a far from ideal replacement for one of the highlights of the South African sporting calendar, the Festival of Cricket, and in particular the third day’s activities which sees the start of the RamSlam T20 competition, is an initiative which may have a future.
The Springboks v Proteas and the North v South “State of Origin” encounters do feel somewhat contrived and gimmicky, but the opening round of domestic T20 tournament, which sees all six franchises involved in three matches, is certainly an exercise we may see again.
Cricket South Africa have in recent seasons taken One-Day Internationals to some of the smaller venues in the country, and having the opening round of the RamSlam, like Newlands will host tomorrow, is something that can definitely be taken to the smaller grounds as a means of helping those provinces fill their coffers.
Ticket sales for tomorrow have been slow, but the Western Province Cricket Association are hopeful it would pick up today and tomorrow.
The involvement of the national players will hopefully help with those sales, while the sponsors will also be grateful that most of the household names in South African cricket will be playing for most of the competition which ends on the ninth of next month. In addition to the big names of South African cricket, the franchises have also attracted some intriguing foreign assistance – the Dolphins will get Chris Gayle, the Cobras the services of Sunil Narine and the Titans, Saeed Ajmal.
“Most of the international guys will be playing, which will also make the competition tougher but that just makes it better, because the quality will be higher,” said the Warriors’ Wayne Parnell.
Adding to the competition’s lustre is the prospect of players knocking down a spot in the side for the World T20 Championships, which take place in March. Then of course, there’s also the lucrative Champions League T20, a competition that has become crucial to the franchises because of the large financial rewards on offer.
The Highveld Lions have certainly been swimming in cash having qualified for that event the last two seasons, and they are well aware of the target on their backs heading into tomorrow’s unique opening round.
The Lions have managed to confound the widely held belief that the 20-over format lends itself to wild fluctuations in fortunes. They have shown a reasonable level of consistency, winning 14 of the 22 league matches over the last two seasons and losing just five times.
They have played in the competition’s last two finals and also, quite unexpectedly, got through to the final of the Champions League T20 when it was held here in 2012.
“Their bowling has been their strength in the last couple of seasons,” said Parnell. “They’ve managed to bowl sides out and then obviously chase it down.”
That bowling, featuring bruising quickies Hardus Viljoen and Chris Morris, has been strengthened for this season’s competition by the return of Sohail Tanvir, the addition of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and veteran Pakistani all-rounder Azhar Mahmood. Adding further variety are the spin twins – Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir.
Parnell, however, feels the Warriors have within their ranks sufficient weapons to unsettle Alviro Petersen’s side. A bit like the Lions, their attack is also one with a lot of variety; Parnell provides left-arm swing and pace, Rusty Theron is a fine exponent of death bowling, Simon Harmer is an off-spinner with a growing reputation and young Ayabulela Gqamane is an unpredictable element. “One would say that (variety) will be beneficial but if you’re not (executing) properly then it’s almost not worth having. But having that variety, if everyone plays to their potential, can be a massive advantage.”
The Lions have won three of the last four meetings between the sides in the competition dating back two seasons including a 115-run thumping of the Warriors in the 2011/12 season that is the second largest margin of victory by runs in the competition’s eight-year history.
Fixtures (all at Newlands)
Sunfoil Dolphins v Unlimited Titans (10am); bizhub Highveld Lions v Chevrolet Warriors (2pm); Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras v Chevrolet Knights (6pm) - Saturday Star