The RamSlam T20 Challenge gets under way in spectacular fashion on Sunday when all six domestic franchises kickstart the competition in a first-ever triple-header at Newlands.
It is set to be better and bigger than ever, with the Proteas available and also some mega overseas signings split across the teams.
We examine all six franchises and their prospects for this year’s series.
Highveld Lions (Last season – Champions)
Head coach – Geoff Toyana
South Africa’s Coach of the Year has found out in his second season that coaching a professional franchise is not actually as easy as he made it look in his debut year. The Lions have not only surrendered their shared 1-Day Cup title already, but actually finished stone last! Toyana’s players, though, will have benefited from their Champions League T20 experience in India at the beginning of the season and will look to redeem themselves by defending their local RamSlam T20 crown.
Local player to watch – Quinton de Kock
The rising star of South African cricket had a rollicking domestic T20 season last time out, scoring 524 runs at an average of 54.20. Amazingly, it also came at a strike-rate of 145.55. Still only 21, but more mature after a wonderful first season of international cricket, De Kock could win a couple of games single-handedly for the Lions.
International players – Azhar Mahmood and Sohail Tanveer
The Lions have gone for the two Pakistani overseas professionals, choosing players who may not be big-names, but are familiar with South African conditions. Tanveer’s left-arm swing-bowling and lower-order hitting have been a major part of the Lions success over the past couple of seasons and is almost regarded as a local player at the Bullring already, while Mahmood has swapped the coastal lifestyle of the Cobras for the action up in Joburg.
Prediction – If De Kock fires at the top of the order, it is going to be hard to stop the Lions winning back-to-back titles. However, like the 1-Day Cup showed, the Lions can be attacked if their initial pace onslaught of Hardus Viljoen, Chris Harris and Tanveer is subdued.
Cape Cobras (Last season – Sixth)
Head coach – Paul Adams
South Africa’s most successful spin bowler since readmission with 135 Test wickets has enjoyed a similar stellar start to his coaching career by winning three trophies (two shared) in his first one and a half seasons as a professional coach. However, for all his success in the two other formats, the Cobras were dismal in last year’s T20, finishing last, so there will be huge pressure on Adams to deliver at least a place in the final, which will secure Champions League T20 qualification.
Local player to watch – Richard Levi
The Cobras have an abundance of international stars, including Hashim Amla who will don “The Blues” for the first time this season. All eyes will be on his opening partner, though, with big-hitting Levi set to make his comeback after missing the entire 1-Day competition with a back injury. Levi still holds the South African T20 record of 117 off just 51 balls (13 sixes) and a big RamSlam series could still catapult him back into contention for the World T20 in Bangladesh in March.
International player – Sunil Narine
Regarded as one of the best spinners in the shortest format of the game, he is the supreme “mystery spinner” with his ability to maintain a disciplined length despite delivering his box of liquorice all-sorts variations. A star at the IPL with the Kolkata Knight Riders, the West Indian is likely to get a few local batsmen tied up in knots.
Prediction – The Cobras have the strongest squad in the RamSlam, but that could pose a problem on its own. How Adams juggles his resources and keeps his players on the bench happy while sitting out could be as important as how they fair on the park.
Titans (Last season – Third)
Head coach – Rob Walter
Another one of South Africa’s new breed of young coaches, Walter has exceeded expectations by sharing the 1-Day Cup with the Cobras in his first season. Well-travelled with the Proteas, and schooled under Gary Kirsten, Walter places great emphasis on the man-management side of coaching.
Local player to watch – Marchant de Lange
Express pace in any form of the game is a vital asset, and when the white ball is being hurled in at close to 150km/h at yorker length, it becomes even more dangerous. De Lange possesses this ability, and, although he may concede runs at the start sometimes, he is deadly at the back-end of the innings. Another one pushing for a late inclusion to the Proteas T20 squad for Bangladesh.
International player – Saeed Ajmal
The Proteas know all about Ajmal after facing the ace Pakistan off-spinner throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean they have found the formula to stifle the world’s premier slow bowler across all formats. Ajmal’s doosra, teesra and other variations will be a joy to watch, but no pleasure to face. The battle between Ajmal and Narine when the Titans face the Cobras will be one of the highlights of the season.
Prediction – The Titans, like the Cobras, have an abundance of talent. And again how they harness it, and combine as a unit, will play a great role in determining their chances in this tournament. An interesting side-plot will be to see who actually leads the team, as regular leader Henry Davids is available and Proteas T20 skipper Faf du Plessis is in the side as well.
Dolphins (Last season – fifth)
Head coach – Lance Klusener
The former Proteas smasher has definitely had a positive impact on the coastal franchise, but the pressure is now on to bring home a piece of silverware for the long-suffering KwaZulu Natal fans. The KZN executive board and sponsors, Sunfoil, have invested heavily in the team for this competition by bringing in two overseas professionals, including mega-star Chris Gayle. Klusener’s tactics were a bit perplexing last season – like he used young spinner Prenelan Subrayen as a pinch-hitter in one of the games – so, hopefully, he has learnt from previous mistakes.
Local player to watch – David Miller
It’s a “Miller time” was a catch phrase of the IPL last season whenever the strong left-hander walked to the crease. Arguably the most powerful batsman in the South African game at the moment, Miller has a simple approach: “If it is in the V, hit it to the tree”.
International players – Chris Gayle and Graham Onions
Christopher Henry Gayle. The mere mention of this name sends fear into even the thriftiest of opening bowlers. Tall, strong and muscular Gayle is the epitome of the ultimate T20 batsman. He will bring the crowds back into the stadium, even if it is just to catch a glimpse of the cool Jamaican. Gayle also has unfinished business at the Dolphins after not playing a game due to injury the last time they signed him. Onions, meanwhile, has been with the Dolphins all season and fitted in seamlessly at his former Durham teammate and Dolphins batting coach Dale Benkenstein’s old stomping ground.
Prediction – Gayle will obviously be the centre of the universe in KwaZulu Natal for a couple of weeks, but the likes of Miller, Morné van Wyk and Vaughn van Jaarsveld will also have to play their roles if the Dolphins are to fulfil their promise of at least qualifying for the Champions League.
Warriors (Last season – Runners-up)
Head coach – Piet Botha
The unassuming former Border and Transvaal stalwart is a coach who never seeks the headlines, preferring that his players shine. It is a policy that has been worked for him, although he still seeks his first trophy after succeeding current Proteas coach Russell Domingo at St George’s Park.
Local player to watch – Wayne Parnell
“Parney” has played just three games for his franchise all season, but walked away with the Man of the Match award in all three. That is the impact the all-rounder has made on the domestic scene this season. If he is not smashing centuries from the opening spot, he is cleaning up batting line-ups with his prodigious pace and swing. Has taken over from Charl Langeveldt as South Africa’s premier “death bowler”.
International players – None
Prediction – The Eastern Cape franchise exceeded expectations by reaching the final last season through cameo performances from “no-name brands” like Christiaan Jonker, but will struggle in this season’s highly competitive tournament.
Knights (Last season – Fourth)
Head coach – Sarel Cilliers
Cilliers has recovered from enduring a player revolt at the end of the first season to gradually earn the respect of the Bloemfontein-based franchise. There has been an upward curve recently, especially in the first-class format, but the loss of Morné van Wyk’s leadership and T20 skills to the Dolphins could prove to be a major loss.
Local player to watch – Rilee Rossouw
No longer the young darling from the City of Roses, Rossouw is a senior player at the Knights now. A fearless approach has always served him well, and he will like to continue in this vein.
International players – None
Prediction – The withdrawal of Pakistani maverick Shahid Afridi is a major blow to the Knights’ chances as he could have been the “X-factor” they are severely lacking. However, the Knights have never been about individuals, with their strength being the sum of their parts. - The Star