Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana believes his lagging Lions charges need to work on their mental game. Photo by Duif du Toit

Johannesburg – The Lions claimed the unenviable honour of finishing in last place in all three domestic competitions last season, and coach Geoffrey Toyana said his charges need to work on their mental game.

The Lions first play a pre-season game in the eKasi challenge against the Titans in Soweto on August 22, but their campaign will begin in earnest in the domestic four-day series starting in late September.

“We’ve had some tough conversations because we were poor last season,” said Toyana on Wednesday.

“This season hopefully we’ll start well, because we’re better than how we played last season. The biggest thing we’re trying to improve this year is our character.

“It was tough for everyone last season, the biggest thing is team responsibility and unity.”

The Lions were plagued by off-field issues in their doomed campaign across all formats last season, most notably with Alviro Petersen stepping down as captain during the T20 competition in January.

While Petersen remains part of the team, Stephen Cook will captain the Lions in both the four-day and One Day Cup competitions, while veteran Neil McKenzie will handle affairs in the T20s.

“We’ve got some new leaders now, and Stephen Cook has come in as well with his way of thinking which is refreshing,” said Toyana.

“It’s always going to be tough getting the guys together at this time of year with winter tours. It gives an opportunity to those young players to have a look in.”

Toyana said there could be a number of new faces in the starting XI in their pursuit of title contention.

“It will be tough for some of the guys this season because we are starting afresh.

“There’s no one who owns a shirt here. We are starting from scratch and hopefully we’ll have a better season this year.”

The Lions were able to snap up the services of under-19 World Cup winning player Kagiso Rabada.

The quick bowler played the final two matches for the Lions at the end of last season where he picked up seven wickets at an average of 26.5.

Rabada, 19, despite his inexperience at first-class level, was selected for the South Africa A tour to Australia. They will take part in a quadrangular limited overs series against Australia A, India A and the Australian National Performance Squad (NPS), as well as two four-day Test matches against Australia A.

Toyana said he had been in contact with South Africa’s A coach Vincent Barnes to carefully manage the progress of the young fast bowler.

“Kagiso has been with the CSA (Cricket SA) academy this whole off-season. I’ve chatted to Vincent Barnes about his workloads, but he’s still young.”

It would be key to avoid overworking the young player ahead of what could be a lengthy career, said the coach.

“The key thing is to look after that young body because we don’t want another Mfuneko Ngam or Monde Zondeki. As he comes through, we’ll just see where we’re playing and if there’s some grass he’ll play. If we go to a place somewhere like East London, we’ll give him a break on those type of wickets.” – Sapa