CAPE TOWN – With his team flying high on top of the standings with three victories from as many starts, the toughest part of Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince’s job this past week potentially was to select his final XI for the Four-Day Franchise Series encounter against the Dolphins at Newlands today.
Every component of the Cobras seems to be working well at the moment, with the top-order amongst the runs, both the seam and spin department are doing the necessary to take the 20 wickets on offer, and even the all-rounder is contributing with both bat and ball.
So, why change a winning combination then? Well, for starters, it is not just anybody who is available for selection again. Proteas new-ball bowler Vernon Philander has recovered from his ankle injury and would be keen to test his fitness at his beloved home ground.
Considering Philander has 49 wickets in nine Test matches at the mind-blowing average of 16.55 at Newlands, it would simply be foolish not to call on the 33-year-old’s services, especially against a Dolphins line-up whose confidence would be brittle after being skittled for just 123 last week.
Equally, veteran seamer Rory Kleinveldt has also recovered from injury after missing the last two rounds of first-class action.
The 35-year-old still has a vital role to play at the Cobras, which was highlighted in the opening game of the season against the Knights when Kleinveldt claimed a “three-for”, and contributed with a tidy half-century in the first innings before guiding the Cobras home in a tricky run chase at Newlands.
It is, however, likely that Kleinveldt may be given further time to recover considering his ageing body has just come off a long season of county championship cricket with Northamptonshire. With the Mzansi Super League fast approaching, and plenty of limited-overs cricket still to come, Kleinveldt could likely be rested until the white-ball competitions get underway.
But who will Prince, along with Cobras convenor of selectors Barney Mohamed, eventually hand the drinks trolley too?
Based upon performances thus far this season, the most likely candidate to be dropped should be Aviwe Mgijima. The middle-order batsman has struggled to replicate his form from two seasons back when he was honoured with the Cobras Player of the Year award. In fact, Mgijima has only scored 87 runs thus far this season across four innings at an average of 21.75.
However, owing to Cricket South Africa’s transformation regulations, Mgijima could hold on to his place due to the fact that all the domestic franchises are stipulated to field at least three Black African players in their starting line-up. Tladi Bokako - the competition’s second highest wicket-taker with 16 scalps - and Mthiwekhaya Nabe are the remaining two Black African players in the Cobras team.
This situation could possibly leave young all-rounder Jason Smith vulnerable to the system’s regulations. It would be hugely unfortunate for Smith to miss out this week, considering he currently tops the Cobras batting averages at 78.50 and has claimed five wickets at 23.40 in the last two matches.
It certainly will be interesting to see the Cobras final XI when captain Dane Piedt hands over the team sheet to the umpires when he walks out to toss this morning.