JOHANNESBURG – The future of players and the coaching staff could well be on the line as the Highveld Lions seek to finish the season on a positive note when the Sunfoil Series resumes on Thursday.
The Lions missed out on the playoffs in both limited-overs tournaments this season, and are at the bottom of the Sunfoil Series standings, having been on the losing end of the only match which hasn’t been drawn in this season’s four-day competition. Murmurings from the boardroom have further raised the unease around the camp with talk of systemic changes, player personnel changes and even changes to the coaching staff hanging over the franchise.
Concentrating on playing in such an environment is extremely difficult, but the players are aware that they have not helped themselves this season either with performances that have been well below par in the limited-overs competitions.
It’s very much a case of trying to salvage some pride, under-fire coach Geoffrey Toyana said this week as the team prepared for a trip to East London to face the Warriors who are fresh from claiming a share of the One-Day Cup title.
“It’s been a tough season,” said Toyana. “All the players are continuing to do their jobs. They remain keen, the spirit has been okay. As a group we’ve chatted about the fact that we didn’t get things right in the 50-over format, but the boys remain positive. As a coaching staff we remain motivated, this is a big competition.”
Quite what the franchise’s board will deem good enough as far as the second half of the Sunfoil Series is concerned remains to be seen. The Gauteng Cricket Board’s chief executive, Greg Fredericks was loath to outline any future plans other than to say that an overall evaluation of the franchise’s system - and specifically that of Gauteng cricket - was being conducted.
Toyana feels his team can still make an impression on the Sunfoil Series, even though they find themselves nearly 24 points behind the table-topping Titans. However, because no other side has managed a win this season, the gap between the Lions in last place and the Knights in second is less than 13 points.
“I see us coming in and playing an aggressive brand of cricket. It’s key for us to get something out of the season,” Toyana added.
Plenty of concerns were raised in the first half of the competition over the number of draws that were played out and particularly the dominance of bat over ball - which saw 40 hundreds scored in the opening five rounds of matches, the same number as in the whole competition last season.
“It was tougher in the early part of the season it was dry, the pitches were flat. We are deeper into the season and the wickets I’ve seen have been quite good cricket wickets,” Toyana said.
Whatever the nature of the surfaces, the onus is on all the teams to play more positively, in order to catch up to the Titans. For the Lions players the motivation is even more pronounced, with careers at the franchise possibly on the line.