Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana (centre) watches over a training session with bowling coach Gordon Parsons (left) and batting coach Justin Sammon. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - An inability to handle the pressure moments properly ultimately led to the Highveld Lions downfall in the T20 Challenge, costing the franchise a spot in the semi-finals.

The Lions, twice winners of the T20 Challenge, finished fifth after their final round-robin match against the Knights, who were also eliminated from the competition, was rained out at the Wanderers on Sunday.

It was the fourth match of theirs that was abandoned due to rain and in all, the Gauteng and North West combined franchise won just two matches throughout the competition’s league phase.

“The rain played a part, but we can’t blame that, we only have ourselves to blame. We played some good cricket, but we lost matches we definitely should have won,” said Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana.

He highlighted three defeats as being crucial to his team’s demise, explaining that it illustrated how the players failed when put under pressure. “We needed 15 runs to win off 11 balls with seven wickets in hand against the Cobras (in Paarl) and lost. In the next game against the Warriors, we make 182, surely we must defend that?” Toyana claimed.

As it transpired the two defeats to the Warriors, who by winning their last three matches claimed fourth spot, proved crucial as far as the final standings were concerned.

“In Potch last Friday, although it was a reduced game, (Ryan) Rickelton takes the game away from them in the third over, hitting 18 runs, but we end up losing again, by four runs,” Toyana added.

Red flags were raised in the Lions’ last-ball win against the Dolphins also in Potchefstroom in their third match of the competition.

“We get to 150 without loss, lose five wickets and we need Wiaan (Mulder) to hit us a four off the last ball... we shouldn’t have gotten ourselves into that position, we should have been looking for a bonus point win there,” Toyana said.

“We just did not embrace those pressure moments well. When you’re under pressure your thinking gets clouded and that’s an area we got wrong. I don’t think it’s a case of inconsistency. With the exception of the Titans game (at the start of the tournament) we dominated in most matches for 90 percent of the game and just couldn’t kill off the opposition.”

Toyana said he felt most sorry for opener Reeza Hendricks who finished as the top run-scorer with a total of 361 runs after the round-robin phase. “He did not deserve to (be in a team that finished) fifth,” Toyana said.

Besides Hendricks, one of the other positives to emerge from a disappointing campaign was 21-year-old Rickelton, who played some sparkling innings’ up the order to provide the Lions with some impetus with the bat.

“Coming into his first senior campaign, he really impressed us with his attitude and his work ethic. I see a bright future for him,” Toyana said.

The Lions now have a few weeks off and will look towards the One-Day Cup which starts on December 20.

“(Stephen) Cook’s back to captain us in that competition. As long as we understand and improve on how we deal with those pressure moments, I don’t think the disappointment of (the T20 Challenge) will impact on how we play in that competition,” Toyana said.

Meanwhile, the T20 Challenge will conclude this week, with the Titans hosting the Warriors in the first semi-final at SuperSport Park on Wednesday, followed by the Dolphins hosting the Cape Cobras in Durban on Thursday. The final will be played on Saturday.

The Star

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