JOHANNESBURG – Not that the Titans or the Cape Cobras need extra motivation for a semi-final, but today’s match at SuperSport Park will have some added spice, simply because it’s the Titans against the Cobras.
The two franchises have been the dominant forces in domestic cricket over the last decade, with the northerners edging ahead recently, not just in terms of trophies but also the production of Proteas.
“There is always a bit of needle, it starts with the coaches and then is between the players, there is always something, that incentive to get one over them,” Titans captain Dean Elgar said yesterday.
Sometimes that has turned nasty, as was the case in last season’s domestic T20 tournament when elements in Western Province cricket spread rumours that the Titans had deliberately lost their last round-robin match to ensure the Cobras didn’t get a home semi-final.
Titans coach Mark Boucher was understandably livid about that implication and a tense relationship remains. If today’s game gets close, some of that tension could spill over.
Then there’s the competition between the various Proteas in both teams. The Cobras have been bolstered by the return of the in-form JP Duminy, while the Titans have replaced Lungi Ngidi (injured), Heinrich Klaasen (IPL) and Chris Morris (IPL) with Aiden Markram, Junior Dala and Dale Steyn, and brought Tabraiz Shamsi back too.
The Titans, who finished atop the table following the round-robin phase, start as favourites given the talent available to them, home ground advantage, and the fact that they smashed the Cobras in both league fixtures.
But they are wary of being complacent, and Boucher and many of their players will recall last season’s mishap at home in the semi-final against the Warriors.
“Three weeks ago we spoke about it; it’s the nature of the game. If you want to win a World Cup you have to go through a round-robin stage, and then a semi-final and a final,” said Elgar.
“This is a high pressure situation that we have been put in, there are no guarantees, but I’d like to think our players are equipped to handle that.”
Not that the Cobras aren’t. They have been inconsistent this season, particularly with the bat, but any team with Duminy, Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt will know how to navigate the pressure moments in a knockout match.
There are some talented youngsters too, notably opener Janneman Malan, Zubayr Hamza and Kyle Verreynne, who Cobras coach Ashwell Prince claimed this week was deserving of higher honours.
There is no better place to grab the attention of the national selectors and national team coach than by making a major contribution in a semi-final, and Verreynne will be keen to fulfil his coach’s confidence in him today.
It would be a surprise if the semi-final were to be as one-sided as the two round-robin games. The Cobras can’t possibly play as badly as they did in those two matches.
There’s some outstanding talent in both teams, so it should be an entertaining and explosive encounter.
The match starts at 1.30pm.@shockerhess