JOHANNESBURG – Seldom has a spate of injuries been welcomed by a coach as has been the case for Mark Boucher at the Titans ahead of the start of the RamSlam T20 Challenge.
The absence of Faf du Plessis, Morné Morkel and Chris Morris has made some potentially difficult selection decisions, easier.
In fact, it may even prove helpful for the Titans as some of those injured players will return over the course of the tournament making the defending champions even stronger as the competition reaches its climax.
That’s a scary thought for their opponents.
The Titans have retained the majority of the side that won the competition last season and with the Proteas available, they’re also able to add AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock.
Morris, who’s been training with the side this week, is expected to be ready to play in two weeks time, while Morkel will be back in the first week of December. Dale Steyn will play in the Titans’ second match against the Knights in Kimberley on Wednesday.
“With players coming in throughout the tournament, the squad should remain fresh which is a good thing,” said Boucher. “You have to try and manage the process. We have enough players to have a very good team on the field, no matter what team rocks up.”
Having the Proteas is an obvious boon for the tournament, with Cricket SA hoping it encourages more people to head for the stadiums. For the coaches, particularly Boucher, the presence of so many Proteas presents some challenges.
“I always say to the players, ‘Well what would you do if you were the coach?’ and then you see them understand. They know the opportunities won’t be as much (as they’d like) but when they do get the opportunity they’re expected to really bring good energy into the side, which can only be a plus. So we’re ready.”
Another benefit of having the likes of De Villiers, Steyn, Morris and Morkel around is the example they have set for some of the younger domestic players. Lungi Ngidi tweeted this week about a punishing but rewarding session of ‘death’ bowling against De Villiers.
“The Proteas train at international intensity, which is good for our guys to see,” said Boucher.
“All of our internationals who’ve come back have been superb in the last four days. Every time they play for us, they’ve been fantastic. This is coming back to their roots for them; it’s where it all began, and they enjoy that.
“I encourage guys to talk a lot; that’s how I learned, sitting having a beer with Peter Kirsten after the game. That’s where my career speeded up.
“It helps in terms of learning how to deal with pressure, not just on the field, but even stuff off it as well. The youngsters are lucky these guys are back, and they must seize the opportunity to learn from them.”
The Titans start the defence of their title with a derby against the Highveld Lions at SuperSport Park tomorrow. They are favourites for that clash just as they are to win the whole tournament. It is a tag that Boucher relishes his side having.
“If people are gunning for you it means you’re doing something good. We understand that every side that comes up against us, really ups their game. It’s nice to be favourites, regardless of the competition, because guys see you as the best in the country.
“We have talked about the threats that could come into the side, like complacency. But the culture here is very strong, and if there is complacency I back our players, to chat to each other, tell each other they have to up their games,” Boucher explained.
The Titans’ match against the Lions tomorrow will start at 4pm. It will be preceded by the clash between the Cape Cobras and the KZN Dolphins that starts at noon.
Meanwhile, Boucher said he will guided by the medical experts and Steyn himself about how much game time he will have over the course of the competition.
“Look, I’m not just going to throw him to the wolves, I understand he’s come back from a long lay-off and we have to manage him carefully, that's why he's only playing on Wednesday,” said the Titans coach.
“The best guy to ask is the bowler, and I have a nice relationship with Dale, and he’ll be honest with me when I ask how he’s feeling. We’ll take it from there. We are in a position where we can play him in one game, give him a break, then play him again.”
“South Africa just want to see Dale back on the park. He might play one game, and feel great and be keen to play again, That's great, and he’s definitely part of our selection plans.
"But if he feels a bit tight, he can go back to rehab and we’ll work him in slowly.”