JOHANNESBURG - Study the Warriors’ team sheet and you can do nothing but applaud their sterling efforts last summer in qualifying for the finals of both domestic limited overs competitions.
They are not a group of superstars. But they do have a studious coach in Malibongwe Maketa, some elegant batsmen in Colin Ingram and Colin Ackerman, a bruising couple of seamers, in Sisanda Magala and Andrew Birch and they also have Jon-Jon Smuts, arguably the best player in last season’s T20 franchise competition - which this summer once more carries the moniker, the RamSlam.
Smuts scored 371 runs last season, including a century, he picked up nine wickets with an economy rate of 6.17 and as a result he was picked for the Proteas.
That innings of 107 was against the Dolphins in East London, where the Warriors successfully chased 217 with an over to spare.
In the final against the Titans, they put up a heck of a fight - arguably their most defining feature - coming within six runs of victory.
Given the presence of all the Proteas for the RamSlam, the Warriors are not expected to feature in this season’s final, but the low expectations from others, is just how they like it.
“Traditionally there haven’t been that many big name cricketers that came from the Eastern Cape, so everyone’s referred to us as scrappers,” said Smuts. “It’s been that way for a long time. I’ve been playing for the Warriors for 11 years ... it’s always been the case.
"We want to play against AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Temba Bavuma, it brings the best out of us. It’s where we test ourselves to see if we are improving as a side and producing world class players.”
The standard of the competition is expected to be higher though this season, simply because of the Proteas. Smuts understands that his team will need to raise its level, although that doesn’t mean steering away from what has worked for them.
“It’s cliched, but you have to get the basics right, win your home matches ... we’ve built a squad nicely together, it was a young squad but we’ve gained some experience. If you can get on a hot streak in the middle of the tournament, you must take advantage of that,” Smuts said.
The Warriors did so last summer, winning four matches in a row in the middle of the round-robin phase, and the slow turning tracks in Port Elizabeth and East London allowed the part-time spin of Smuts, Ingram and Ackerman to become key components of their success.
Smuts played six T20 Internationals this year making his debut against Sri Lanka at Centurion, but since Ottis Gibson has taken over as Proteas head coach he’s not heard if he’s still apart of the national team’s plans in the shortest format and he wasn’t included for the T20 matches against Bangladesh.
“To be honest I wouldn’t expect (to hear anything from Gibson),” Smuts remarked. “He’s new into the job, it’s been a (busy) summer already with Bangladesh having been here. Hopefully I will get some guidance, but I’ve got to put the performances in, I have to keep doing what I do.”
The desire to don the green and gold remains and he certainly lapped up the opportunities he had on the six occasions he got to play. “Playing in full stadiums against Sri Lanka was amazing. That tour didn’t go as we wanted it. England was a tough tour, we played against some tough English sides, but it was nice to score a couple of runs, but to lose the series 2-1 was disappointing. I want to try, if I get my opportunity, to get into a winning series.”
“You have to back yourself, trust that what you’ve done ... you have to enjoy it, if the occasion gets too big for you it can be difficult. You are playing against some world class players, you have to have faith in your ability, and belief that you can execute your skills,” he said about his initial forays in the international arena.
Although eight years older than Andile Phehlukwayo, Smuts sites the 21 year old as an example of what’s required to succeed at international level. “I look at a guy like Andile, he’s taken to international cricket like a duck to water. You can see why, he just keeps doing what he does every weekend for the Dolphins, he now does that for South Africa and he’s become a true performer for the Proteas.”
The Warriors will kick off the 2017/18 RamSlam tournament at St George’s Park on Friday nigh when they face a star-laden VKB Knights side that includes - David Miller, current holder of the fastest century in T20 International cricket, Theunis de Bruyn, Duanne Olivier and Marchant de Lange. The Knights will be favourites, which is just how Smuts and the Warriors like it. today’s match starts at 6pm and will be broadcast on SuperSport 2.