CAPTAIN Temba Bavuma and his Lions’ team have found title-winning form at the right time as they prepare for the Dolphins in the semi-finals of the T20 Challenge tomorrow. Photo: BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – As they did on their successful charge to the Four-Day title, the Highveld Lions once again run into good form, when it matters as they topped the log in the CSA T20 Challenge.

In the Four-Day competition, which they won narrowly over the Cape Cobras, the Lions won all of their last four games. In the T20 Challenge, they’ve won three of their last four completed matches, dodging the rain which blighted the competition to set up a home-semi-final tomorrow against the Dolphins at the Wanderers. Win that, and they can play the final also at the Bullring on Sunday.

But looking that far ahead is not how the Lions have achieved success and between coach Enoch Nkwe, skipper Temba Bavuma and senior players like Rassie van der Dussen and Dwaine Pretorius, they will ensure all the players’ attention is focussed on the Dolphins.

“I ask for a lot of selflessness from the guys, especially the batters in the middle order. The guys have reacted well. On the bowling front, fortunately for me as captain, I’ve had a lot of guys I’ve been able to rely on,” said Bavuma.

The Lions’ depth and diversity have been their strength. With the bat, Ryan Rickelton, who scored a sparkling 74 on Sunday to help usher the Titans to the exit, Rassie van der Dussen and Bavuma have been outstanding at the top of the order, cleverly mixing precision and aggression to give the Lions a foothold.

“Rickelton is an important cog in that batting line-up, when he gets going, he can hit any bowler,” Bavuma said of the hard-hitting talented left-hand opener. The 22 year old St Stithians College alumnus is the competition’s second highest run-scorer with an aggregate of 243.

When he plays with the kind of freedom he showed at SuperSport Park, he is able as he did there to relieve a lot of pressure on the middle order, and as was the case on Sunday, the Lions could even afford a mid-innings wobble before coasting home with an over to spare.

With the ball, as with the bat, the Lions haven’t been reliant on one bowler. However, a strong argument could be made for left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin being the competition’s MVP, such has been his impact with the new ball throughout the tournament. The T20 Challenge has easily been his best showing in his senior career, and the 11 wickets he’s taken have also allowed the Lions to apply early pressure to the opposition batting line-ups.

“Mentally he is up for it,” said Bavuma. “He wants to bowl in those times. He wants to set the tone for the team. It’s not the norm for the spinner to come on in the first six overs and bowl two to three overs, He knows that and he wants that challenge.

That’s been comforting for me, and every time he’s had the ball, he gives me the feeling he’s looking to take wickets, or is looking to make a play.”

While tagging the T20 Challenge onto the back of a season that’s already been lengthy has been criticised in many circles, Fortuin has used it to his advantage and with an SA 'A' tour coming up in a few weeks’ time and a World T20 in the offing next year, his performance will warrant attention from the national selectors.

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The Lions will now be preparing for the Dolphins, a side they beat by 18 runs in their sole meeting in this competition, two weeks ago in Durban, when Fortuin picked up two wickets in his first over. Although semi-finals provide added pressure, Bavuma will be pressing his players to treat it like the other matches they have played in the tournament.

“As much as it is a semi-final, for me it’s about guys going out there and executing their roles. The awareness of guys about their own games has grown so much with the responsibility that’s been given to them. (Tomorrow), is another opportunity and do what they’ve been chosen to do.”



The Star

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