JOHANNESBURG – There is no great secret to beating the Titans; it requires total focus for all 240 balls over the course of three-and-a-half hours of a T20 match.
That’s the theory.
The Highveld Lions who face the hitherto unbeaten Titans at the Wanderers in the T20 Challenge tonight (the 6pm start has been delayed by rain) have had one significant problem in their campaign so far, and it relates precisely to their inability to play properly for 240 balls over the course of three-and-a-half hours.
It has cost them victories against the Cape Cobras and the Warriors, and nearly cost them four points against the Dolphins.
Against the Titans, they can ill-afford any lapses, such is the flair and know-how in that team.
“In the close ones, which we lost, we’ve played well it’s just in crucial moments that have either gone against us or we haven’t capitalised on them,” said Lions opener Rassie van der Dussen.
He claimed it wasn’t the Lions’ skill that has let them down in the latter stages of matches, rather their inability to think clearly under pressure that has proved costly.
It is a theme that his teammate Mangaliso Mosehle latches on to when trying to describe the batting unit’s inability to build on the good starts by Van der Dussen and fellow opener Reeza Hendricks.
“It’s about awareness, there is a lot of uncertainty; after a good start do you keeping going hard or get conservative? We’ve got caught up in that. It’s about clarity of thinking, when you get into that situation,” Mosehle remarked.
Muddied thinking won’t help them beat the table-topping Titans. “They are tough to beat, they have a lot of experience and talent,” said Mosehle, who once donned the light blue strip.
“We want to get into a situation where we are competing. In terms of skill, they might be better than us, but if we compete, on every single ball, for every single run, that gives us a chance to win.”
The Lions have started well with bat and ball recently; Van der Dussen and Hendricks have shared partnerships of 158, 52 and 87 in the last three matches.
And with the ball, thanks to Kagiso Rabada, they’ve reduced the opposition to 2/13, 2/19 and 2/23 in those same matches.
Building on from those good starts has proved problematic - they’ve lost two of those games and needed some last-ball heroics from Wiaan Mulder to get them across the line in the other.
The Titans meanwhile have shown they can adapt regardless of the situation. Quinton de Kock who won’t feature tonight has been out of form and the experienced Henry Davids has just one notable score to his name in this season’s competition.
But in Aiden Markram, AB de Villiers and Farhaan Behardien, there is sufficient class that has helped to dig the Titans out of trouble and put them in a position from which they have dominated.
De Villiers acknowledged this week that the Titans have thus far hidden their weaknesses well.
Those shortcomings relate mainly to their batting, which with Albie Morkel slated to come in at No 6 couple with the struggles of their opening pair, is a little short.
With Dale Steyn still doing strengthening work in Cape Town in preparation for the Test series against India and Australia one of David Wiese or Chris Morris will be called on at the Wanderers, and both of them provide some batting depth.
Whoever the Titans send on to the field, the Lions know they will have to produce their best performance of the competition to beat them.
The tournament is not yet at the point where any team is in a must-win situation, but a victory for the hosts will provide a fillip to their hopes of qualifying in the top four.
“We’ve played well, in stages, but we’ve not put the perfect game together,” said Van der Dussen.
Something close to perfect will be needed if he and the Lions are to leave the Wanderers smiling tonight.