JOHANNESBURG – When is home-ground advantage not really an advantage?
In the case of the Jozi Stars, it’s when that home-ground is the Wanderers.
They’ve lost three of their five home matches in the Mzansi Super League. Those that have been paying close attention to the tournament will notice that two of those defeats came against the other teams who emerged in the top half of the table along with the Stars at the end of the round-robin phase; the table-topping Cape Town Blitz and the Paarl Rocks.
It’s the latter the Stars will face at the Wanderers on Friday night, with Stars captain Dane Vilas hoping for a boisterous atmosphere.
After a slow start from the Johannesburg public, Vilas said he detected some real support in the Stars last match against the Tshwane Spartans. Although the official attendance figures indicated just over 5000 came through the gates, the noise they created hinted that spectators were becoming supporters.
“The atmosphere on Tuesday was incredible, the crowd was really behind the players,” said Vilas. “ You could hear them chanting players names at different points; when Rassie was getting close to a hundred, and KG was bowling and then for Nono also and you feed off that as a player.”
Making the Wanderers feel like a home ground with a hostile atmosphere is one way to get over some of the problems players might face when playing there. “It’s an incredibly difficult place to bowl,” Vilas remarked.
Bowlers will certainly attest. The two highest totals of the tournament - both scored by the Stars - came at the Wanderers. The Stars also conceded 198 against the Cape Town Blitz earlier in the tournament and while the venue has traditionally been one where chasing is preferred all three of those big totals were scored by the team batting first.
“We are finding our rhythm with this ground,” Vilas added.
The Rocks’ win came last Sunday so will still be fresh in their memories and strokemakers like Aiden Markram and Cameron Delport will relish playing there. That match wasn’t as high-scoring an affair either; the Stars batted first and scored 170/6 which the Paarl side chased down relatively comfortably for the loss of four wickets.
The difference in that match was the Rocks out-bowled the Stars by mixing up the pace better and hitting a length just short of full more consistently. Tabraiz Shamsi also found purchase with his left-arm wrist spin something that surprised the Stars batsmen.
The loss of early wickets in the power play also upset the Joburg team’s rhythm something they resolved before their last match against the Spartans.
After the last two games were played on a strip to the eastern side of the square, Friday’s match will be played on one of the centre pitches, which is being used for the first time this season. Regardless of the strip however, accuracy of line and length remains critical. “We’ve played here more than any other team so hopefully the lessons we’ve learned here we can apply again on Friday night,” Vilas added.
Friday’s match starts at 7pm.@shocherhess