JOHANNESBURG - While a cloud continues to hang over him as coach, and the players’ futures, Highveld Lions mentor, Geoffrey Toyana, said the drama behind the scenes had nothing to do with his team suffering its second defeat of the Sunfoil Series to the Warriors last Saturday.
“We didn’t bat well enough, again, same story, like it’s been all season,” a despondent Toyana replied.
The Lions, chasing 161, were bowled out for 131, losing the match by 29 runs.
“It was a difficult pitch, it did spin a lot, which we were surprised by, but we should have made 160. To turn up on the third morning and lose three wickets for one run, was disappointing,” said Toyana.
It’s been a season of disappointment for the Lions, and the pressure on Toyana and the players has grown rapidly in recent weeks, particularly after their poor One-Day Cup campaign.
The Gauteng Cricket Board’s chief executive Greg Fredericks, has already outlined that “systemic changes” will occur in the coming weeks, but he’s been reluctant to say if those changes will include removing Toyana as head coach. It is believed that a director of coaching will be appointed, but that is likely to be on a region wide basis, while specifics around the Lions team are set to be discussed at a Board meeting next week.
The message to Toyana and the players from the "suits" has been to knuckle down and get on with it, and not pay attention to the rumours swirling around concerning changes.
“To be honest, we are all professionals and in all professional spheres of life there is pressure,” said Toyana.
“What has been nice is seeing how the guys have kept working and going about their business. We can’t control what is going on outside, we must focus on the jobs that we are paid to do.”
Out of 26 matches in the three major domestic franchise competitions, the Lions have won just five times this season and for the most part it’s been their batting which has stood out as a glaring weakness.
“We are just not starting well, (Stephen) Cook is struggling this season, and then in East London, he gets two unplayable deliveries. Our other batsmen, with the exception of Rassie van der Dussen, who is playing really well this season, are just not taking responsibility,” Toyana said.
“We had two bowlers (Aaron Phangiso and Beuran Hendricks) take ‘five-fers and I really feel for them, they did not deserve to be on the losing side."
Another frank meeting was held following the defeat in East London, and while the players keep talking about learning lessons, they have failed to apply, that which they claim to be learning.
“This season has been tough, but we can’t keep talking about learning, we’ve got to go out there and make the franchise proud,” Toyana said.
While Toyana maintains that the Lions are not out of the running in the Sunfoil Series - despite being rooted to the bottom of the standings - the gap to the table-topping Titans is now 30 points.
The Lions are the only team to have lost this season and their next match - another away encounter - is against the Cape Cobras, who gave the Titans a run for their money in a tough drawn encounter in Benoni last week.
The Lions will bring Dominic Hendricks back into the squad to replace Reeza Hendricks, who was called up to the national T20 squad for the three matches against India. Phangiso has also been recalled to the Proteas T20 side, and the Lions are hoping, Bjorn Fortuin, who has been injured will be available.