JOHANNESBURG – Mzansi Super League feels like a new tournament this year, although in the case of the defending champions the Jozi Stars, they have - from a playing personnel perspective - stuck with what made them successful last year.
The other teams in the competition, chopped and in some cases like the Tshwane Spartans, changed drastically for the tournament’s second edition. The Stars however, retained seven players which they drafted for the inaugural tournament last year, including Chris Gayle as their overseas marquee, despite the big Jamaican only playing four matches and scoring 43 runs.
It should be noted that Gayle had to deal with the death of his mother, so there were more important matters than cricket that demanded his attention. But it is a massive show of faith from the Stars and those responsible for drafting their players, that he has been retained this year. He is also only available for the first six games, and will be replaced by Pakistan veteran Shoaib Malik for the remainder of the tournament.
“It wasn’t meant to be for me to actually be here, but I volunteered to be here, because I had such a great time last year. I didn’t actually get the performance from a personal point of view and I want to come here and finish off on a high here in South Africa,” said Gayle.
It’s likely to be the last time South Africans get to see the self-titled “Universe Boss” in action as Gayle said he wants to move his focus away from the game.
“I’m 40 now, I still have a lot of cricket to play, but I’m looking from a life point of view; I’m starting a family, I’m going to venture into new things as well,” said Gayle.
“Cricket has played a big part in my life, and I’m very thankful for that. But you also need to know when to move on and start a new journey, which I’m looking forward to. It’s going to be exciting, away from cricket as well.”
Cricket South Africa, under fire for a litany of administrative blunders, desperately need Gayle to fire, and change the current narrative about the sport. An exciting tournament opener between the Stars and Cape Town Blitz at the Wanderers today would help to energise the competition.
The talent on display at “The Bullring” today will hopefully prove attractive to the public too. Dale Steyn, Moeen Ali and Quinton de Kock are the big names in the Blitz outfit, against a Stars side featuring Gayle, Kagiso Rabada and Rassie van der Dussen.
Among the new players in the Stars side, is Temba Bavuma, who has been handed the captaincy. Bavuma barely featured last year after being picked up by Durban Heat, and given how well he played when he captained the Lions in the T20 Challenge last season, plenty will be expected of him again this season.
The Stars will be coached by Donovan Miller, who like Gayle, hails from Jamaica. Miller was one of the assistant coaches last year under Enoch Nkwe, when the Stars won the title. “Given the opportunity now as head coach I don’t think there will be anything different,” said Gayle.
CT Blitz: Quinton de Kock (capt), Wahab Riaz, Liam Livingstone, Dale Steyn, Sisanda Magala, Anrich Nortje, Asif Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Janneman Malan, George Linde, David Bedingham, Vernon Philander, Marques Ackerman, Gregory Mahlokwana, Aviwe Mgijima, Moeen Ali.
Jozi Stars: Kagiso Rabada, Chris Gayle, Rassie van der Dussen, Reeza Hendricks, Daniel Christian, Temba Bavuma (capt), Duanne Olivier, Simon Harmer, Ryan Rickelton, Aaron Phangiso, Lizaad Williams, Sinethemba Qeshile, Nono Pongolo, Eathan Bosch, Delano Potgieter.