JOHANNESBURG – The equations for the Jozi Stars and the Tshwane Spartans for their Mzansi Super League match is a simple one; win and qualify for the play-off.
Actually, the Spartans have another match on Wednesday - against the Durban Heat - at SuperSport Park, so their equation has an addition; win again on Wednesday and qualify for the play-offs.
Today’s loser will have no control of their destiny in the first edition of the MSL - in fact the Spartans will be out of contention.
For a tournament that has struggled to capture an audience in Gauteng - certainly in terms of putting bums on stadium seats - it’s a very exciting conclusion to what has been a hectic couple of weeks of T20 cricket, so hopefully more than 3684 people turn up to the Wanderers tonight to watch.
That was the figure that rolled through the turnstiles on Sunday when the Stars, off the back of a four-match winning streak, lost a very good match against the Paarl Rocks. For all the marketing guff about dancers, fireworks, stupid tournament songs, bands and social media ‘influencers,’ ultimately what will sell the Mzansi Super League is the cricket.
So an individual battle between Kagiso Rabada of the Stars and AB de Villiers of the Spartans should entice more people to pitch up at the ‘Bullring,’ especially with so much at stake for both teams.
Rabada has gradually grown into the tournament; he struggled initially claiming 2/84 in his first two games, but since taking 4/27 against the Heat on the last day of November, he has dominated opposing batsmen. In four matches since that game, he’s bowled 15.3 overs, conceded 83 runs and taken five wickets.
Where Rabada leads, the rest of the attacks has followed. Duanne Olivier, who Chris Gayle described as a high quality quick bowler, is now tied with the Spartans’ Jeevan Mendis as the tournament’s highest wicket-taker on 16. Off-spinner Simon Harmer, when he hasn’t been falling over the stumps to take catches, has been quietly influential, picking up 10 wickets, and conceding runs at just a little more than seven per over.
Beuran Hendricks has been very unlucky to lose his spot in the side after making a good start, in which he claimed nine wickets in six games, but the Stars have desperately needed the batting depth that Dwaine Pretorius provides.
The big focus for the Stars ahead of today’s match will be stability in the power play when they bat.
“Our recipe when batting is to set (the innings) up,” Rassie van der Dussen said after Sunday’s defeat.
In that match they lost both openers, Gayle and Reeza Hendricks inside the power play, which badly affected how they played out the period with the fielding restrictions in the place, and how they went about setting a foundation for the big hitting they like to do later.
Gayle won’t be available for the remainder of the tournament, having headed home for his mother’s funeral. Ryan Rickelton, who’s played superbly, will most likely resume opening with Hendricks.
The Stars have scored the two highest totals in the competition; 230/3 against the Heat at the Wanderers when the scored 56/0 in the power play, and 209/2 against the Rocks in Paarl, when they registered 44/0 in the first six overs. Not losing wickets, or as Van der Dussen said, losing just one, is the objective for that period because they know that in Dan Christian and Dwaine Pretorius they have batsmen capable of clearing the rope in the latter stages.
It’s set up for an intriguing match against the Spartans, who themselves have found some momentum as the tournament rushes to its conclusion.
They’ve won two matches in a row and need to win their remaining two to possibly claim a play-off berth.
“The Spartans have to win and have to win well so they will come out firing,” said Van der Dussen.
Today’s match starts at 7pm.@shockerhess