JOHANNESBURG - With less than a week to go before the 2017/18 season starts, the Highveld Lions are anxious about what the future holds for coach Geoffrey Toyana, who is among the leading candidates to become Ottis Gibson’s assistant with the Proteas.
The opening round of the Sunfoil Series starts Tuesday with the Lions hosting the Warriors at the Wanderers. Gibson is expected to be in the country by then, having insisted that all of the Proteas contracted players participate in the first round of matches.
Gibson is apparently still sifting through candidates who will assist him with Cricket South Africa (CSA) keen that his coaching staff contains some local expertise. Toyana and the Warriors’ Malibongwe Maketa are understood to be at the top of CSA’s list that has been forwarded to Gibson.
That has left the Lions players anxious as the franchise seeks to redeem itself after a hugely disappointing 2016/17 season, where qualification for the play-off round of the T20 competition was the only highlight. At the same time some of the franchise’s top players were revealed to have been involved in the match-fixing scandal, which cast a dark cloud over the domestic game in 2016.
Toyana is one of the country’s most successful coaches having won each of the trophies on offer domestically. In addition, he’s helped elevate a group of players to international level, including Temba Bavuma, Aaron Phangiso, Chris Morris, Quinton de Kock and Dwaine Pretorius.
The latter, who played 10 ODIs and one T20 International in the last year, naturally backs his franchise coach to take up the assistant position at Proteas level, but is quick to add, it’s not helpful for the morale in the Lions set up.
“He’s literally done everything a coach can do ... he’s won the T20 competition, the Sunfoil Series and the Momentum Cup with different players - so it’s not like he’s inherited good players and then the next year won everything,” said the 28-year-old Pretorius.
“He’s won consistently, I really hope he gets the assistant job, but it leaves the Lions in a very s**t position. We are a week away and we don’t know if we’ll have a main coach this season. If he gets that assistant post, then what do we do as a Lions team?”
The Star understands that the Lions have reached out to prospective candidates about taking over from Toyana should he be called up to the Proteas, but with the process in appointing Gibson having dragged on for six months, it has left the Lions in a difficult spot.
Normally, as Pretorius explained, the presence of a seasoned campaigner like Stephen Cook would help with a difficult transition like the one the Lions may face, but Cook has put himself back in the frame for a call up for the Bangladesh series after some excellent performances for South Africa 'A' against India 'A' last month.
On that tour he made a century and scored two half-centuries - including an innings of 98.0
“With a guy like Stephen you hope he gets another opportunity - three hundreds in eight Tests as an opener in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia ... and he gets left out, then gets runs for SA 'A', surely he has to be in the mix.”
Pretorius has ambitions of his own having got a taste for the international stage last summer. Playing Test cricket is an obvious goal, but he faces tough competition for an all-rounder berth from Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo and Wayne Parnell.
“It’s unbelievable having four guys - it’s important not to compete against them, you need to compete with yourself. We are all different, and I can’t compete with Morry. I need to be the best at what I do, and that’s how I will be noticed. They can’t pick me because I’m going to do what Morry does, they must pick me because I’m the best at what I do.”