Getting to finals is something the bizhub Highveld Lions have grown accustomed to recently – winning in those finals is another matter entirely.
The Lions have been to three finals in the last three seasons – all of them in the T20 format and on each occasion, they’ve laid a proverbial egg.
In fact in all those finals – two in the domestic T20 competition and one the prestigious Champions League – they’ve been obliterated by opponents playing with far greater freedom and application.
Talk ahead of the final round-robin match against the Chevrolet Knights was of treating that match as if it was a final.
The fact is, it wasn’t. This Friday’s match against the defending champion Cape Cobras is a final and another huge occasion for a group of players desperate to end a trophy drought that is stretching back almost six years.
Lions coach Geoffery Toyana spoke bullishly about wanting to face the star-studded Cobras in the final of the Momentum 1-Day Cup, now he has to ensure his side is ready for the likes of Dale Steyn, Rory Kleinveldt, Robin Peterson and possibly Graeme Smith.
As a whole the Cobras team have much more experience in big occasions than the Lions, what with the plethora of international stars in their ranks and a host of grizzled pros who’ve been involved in a number of domestic finals in recent seasons.
It presents and enormous task for the Lions, who can call on Alviro Petersen, Thami Tsolekile and Imran Tahir this week.
Their preparations have been made more challenging by the lengthy break they’ve had since they last played a full match some three weeks ago.
Five of their last six league encounters were interrupted in some way by rain, which is partly the reason they’ve stumbled in the second half of the competition after starting with four straight wins.
Toyana and the coaching staff have tried to supplement for the recent lack of game time by setting up two ‘practice’ matches involving the whole squad. The first took place yesterday while a second is scheduled to take place under lights at the Wanderers this evening.
Most importantly the Lions will hope that their powerful new ball bowler Hardus Viljoen comes through the two ‘matches’ unburdened by the ankle injury he picked up midway through the league phase.
Viljoen and Chris Morris formed a potent new ball duo at the start of the competition – between then them they’ve picked up 24 wickets – and restoring that pairing will be a priority for the home side this week.
Toyana stressed that Viljoen will not be considered for the final unless he can get through a full 10 overs in the practice games, and the coach clearly won’t allow himself to be influenced by player demands as was the case ahead of the second match with the Titans, when an unfit Viljoen couldn’t complete his full ration and cried off with a recurrence of the soft-tissue ailment.
While getting Viljoen ready is crucial, so is mental preparation this week.
Those three losses in finals would have left their mark on the players so Toyana and Peterson, who will return to captain the side, face a vital job in getting them relaxed ahead of Friday’s match.