CAPE TOWN – The Titans remain in pole position to claim the Sunfoil Series title after stretching their lead at the top of the table to 6.96 points heading into their clash with the Warriors in East London on Thursday.
But with less than seven points separating second from fifth on the ladder, there are five teams that remain in contention to lift the trophy. It is only the Highveld Lions, who are the only team to lose two matches this season, that appear out of the title race 20 points adrift.
However, even the struggling Lions can fight their way back into contention should they down the defending champions, the Knights, this weekend away in Kimberley.
The Lions will certainly take confidence from their last outing in Paarl where they refused to fold despite a mammoth 500-plus first innings score by the Cape Cobras. They responded with a record-breaking partnership of their own through hefty contributions from Stephen Cook and Rassie van der Dussen. The fact that two senior players stepped up would have filled the Lions with plenty of confidence heading into this week’s fixture against the Knights.
Meanwhile, the Cobras are set to gamble on six specialist batsmen and five bowlers in their quest to take 20 wickets this weekend in Pietermaritzburg. Ashwell Prince’s side have been competitive throughout the Sunfoil Series, but have yet to claim that much-needed victory despite dominating their last two contests against the Lions and Titans.
It is for this reason that the Cobras are likely to gamble on young leg-spinner Junaid Dawood along with captain Dane Piedt in a bid to break down the Dolphins’ resistance.
“I think we need three out of three to win the competition. Cricket is a funny game that never seizes to amaze me but it is highly improbable that two out of three wins will propel you to the title,” Prince said.
“We have to be brave in terms of possibly selecting two spinners. The 21-year-old leg-spinner Junaid Dawood is considered seriously for the role of second spinner and match-winner.”
Dawood, who returned to the Cape this season after a spell at Eastern Province after finishing school, has progressed steadily this season in the Western Province ”semi-pro” team. He was also guided this past week by former Proteas and Cape Cobras left-arm spinner Robin Peterson at training.
“Leg-spinners have the ability to take wickets, even when they bowl full tosses that dip on a batsman,” Prince said of Dawood, who claimed 4/33 in his last match for WP against Gauteng.
The Cobras also welcome back batting pair Pieter Malan and Zubayr Hamza after their exertions for South Africa ”A” against a world-class Australian fast bowling line-up last week in Benoni. The duo would certainly have benefitted from facing the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, especially after sharing a 62-run stand for the first wicket in the second innings.
The Cobras could spring a further surprise with the inclusion of veteran batsman Andrew Puttick in the line-up. The travelling squad is yet to be released, but Independent Media understands that the 37-year-old opener could be recalled from the wilderness for the all-important clash at the Pietermaritzburg Oval.
Puttick has not played any white-ball cricket for the Cobras this season and last played franchise cricket in October last year, but it is believed his ability to spend long periods at the crease is the reason for his recall.
“If you want to be a championship-winning team, two of your top six batsmen must be able to strike centuries consistently,” Prince said. “You have to take responsibility as a batting unit to score two centuries every time you walk to the wicket.”