Johannesburg – The Knights will go into their first-class clash against the Highveld Lions at Wanderers Stadium on Thursday without the services of captain Johan van der Wath.

“(He) is out with a hamstring strain – he's got a grade two tear that he picked up in our last game so he won't be playing and we'll have a new captain in Werner Coetsee,” Knights coach Sarel Cilliers said.

The loss of such a key figure has come at a bad time as the Knights go head-to-head with a fellow contender for the title.

“It's exciting times. We haven't been in contention in the four-day format for the last four or five years.”

The Lions will be without Quinton de Kock, Imran Tahir and Lonwabo Tsotsobe who are with the South African Twenty20 squad.

They have drafted Eddie Leie, Pumelela Matshikwe and Zander de Bruyn into their squad to replace their three Proteas.

Coach Geoffrey Toyana has a bigger concern in the weather, which has left little time for the groundsman to prepare the pitch.

“I'll be surprised if we start on Thursday. It was still quite damp this morning but I did see some blue skies coming through so hopefully it stays for a while,” Toyana said before Wednesday's continuous rain.

Rory Kleinveldt will return to action for the Cape Cobras clash against the Titans at Boland Park, after suffering a calf injury.

Robin Peterson was ruled out of the four-day fixture after picking up a shoulder injury while fielding for the Proteas as a substitute at Newlands.

Beuran Hendricks will also be unavailable as he goes into camp for the Twenty20 series against Australia, but Cobras coach Paul Adams is happy after seeing his young attack knock over the Dolphins in Paarl two weeks ago to take a five-point lead at the top of the table.

“It's always great when they grab that opportunity,” Adams said.

“I think Travis Muller bowled a great spell in that second innings to knock the Dolphins right back.

“It's important that they keep learning and keep working hard to reach a new level.”

Meanwhile the Titans are desperately short on personnel as they look to improve their game over the last four matches of the season.

“Rowan Richards is out for the rest of the season, and David Wiese has broken his finger so he's unavailable for 14 days,” coach Rob Walter confirmed.

“Farhaan Behardien and Albie Morkel are also out of the mix because they'll be joining the Proteas T20 squad.”

With the Titans now out of the running for the trophy, Walter has called on his players and in particular the batsmen Ä to show genuine progress going forward.

“We played really well in patches against the Knights to win and then fell back into some nasty habits against the Lions and didn't bat well enough again,” he said.

“So that consistency has let us down again and is something we need to work on. It's a work in progress; it doesn't happen overnight.”

Dolphins coach Lance Klusener hinted at plans to unleash a secret weapon against the Warriors at Buffalo Park, in the third of the four-day clashes starting on Thursday.

“I think we’re in a position where maybe we need to take a little punt here and there to try and force a win,” said Klusener with his side lying fourth on the log.

“I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve which I might look to use this weekend – we’ve got some guys who have been in the wings, so we have an opportunity to use something fresh.”

Warriors coach Piet Botha said he would be speaking to the groundsman ahead of the game to decide on a tactic as the Warriors look to lift themselves off the foot of the table.

Captain Davy Jacobs will miss the game for the hosts because of a foot injury, leaving the selectors with a tricky task of balancing the side in his absence. – Sapa.