JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 16: Geoffrey Toyana head coach of bizhub Highveld Lions during the eKasi Challenge press conference from The Long Room, Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on July 16, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images)

In an attempt to forge the building blocks ahead of the new season, and also close the book on the horrors of last summer, the Highveld Lions have sort inspiration from former Australian captain Steve Waugh, who once wrote that he “preferred a character over a cover drive”.

Besides strenuous fitness drills which have left many of the players flat on their backs, the Lions have also been forced to confront the problems which left the dressing-room divided and saw the very public airing of dirty laundry.

By the time Alviro Petersen had stepped away from the captaincy in a huff on the eve of a T20 match in Bloemfontein last season, the Lions had already been put through the ringer, with wins a rarity. In needing to address the issues which caused great embarrassment for the franchise last season, coach Geoffrey Toyana explained that a lot of “tough conversations” had occurred between the players and the coaching staff.

“We were poor last year and we all realise that, so this season we want to start well, because we are better than what we were last year, and everyone has bought into the new thinking. The biggest thing we are pushing this year is ‘character over cover drives’,” said Toyana.

Following the glorious run in the summer of 2012/13 in which they were runners-up in the Champions League T20, joint winners of the Momentum One-Day Cup, Sunfoil Series runners-up and then winners of the RamSlam T20 Challenge, the Lions came crashing back to earth last season, winning just four out of 34 matches across all three formats.

“It was tough for everyone last year, the biggest thing is team responsibility and team unity. Everyone is buying into the new thinking,” said Toyana. A new leadership group has been created, with Stephen Cook captaining the side in the Sunfoil Series and Momentum One-Day Cup, while wily veteran Neil McKenzie assumes the leadership reigns in the T20 competition. Temba Bavuma will be vice-captain across all three formats, adding to the extra responsibility he was first handed last season when he was made a permanent fixture at No3 in the batting order.

“We’ve got some new leaders this year; Cookie has come in with his way of thinking which has been quite refreshing. We are starting afresh, no-one owns a shirt here.”

The Lions will again be able to call on Thami Tsolekile to help out with ’keeping duties when Quinton de Kock is absent, though Toyana says negotiations are on-going as to Tsolekile’s availability for all three formats. One player who will be closely monitored is 19-year old Kagiso Rabada, currently on tour with the SA A side in Australia.

“He’s still young, the key for us is to look after that young body, because we don’t want another Mfuneko Ngam or Monde Zondeki,” Toyana added.

Though they have a number of players out on duty with the SA A side, Toyana said most would be back in time to face the Titans in the eKasi Challenge which will be played at Dobsonville Cricket Ground on August 22. - The Star