Lions banking on Yusuf’s SA20 x-factor

CODI Yusuf of the Lions celebrates taking a wicket during a recent CSA T20 Challenge match. | BackpagePix

CODI Yusuf of the Lions celebrates taking a wicket during a recent CSA T20 Challenge match. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 28, 2024


THE Lions brains trust were captured in serious conversation around bowler Codi Yusuf during the first CSA T20 Challenge semi-final.

The right-arm seamer had just been deposited onto the Wanderers grass embankment. It was an almighty blow that had six plastered all over it from the moment Titans left-hander Jack Lees made contact.

Yusuf had missed his length altogether and was now under serious pressure for the remaining four balls of the final over.

Up to that point, the Lions had kept the Titans in check for the majority of the first innings. But Lees was threatening to switch the momentum and to possibly propel the Titans to a score they would feel confident to defend.

Yusuf, though, had seen this all before. The 26-year-old has spent the past two seasons playing in the high-pressure SA20 for the Paarl Royals, where he takes the new ball and bowls at the death.

This experience shone through during the remaining four balls as Yusuf conceded just two extras – a wide and a bye – as he adjusted both his line and length to keep Lees at bay.

It closed out an excellent final over as Yusuf finished with the brilliant figures of 2/25.

“Playing in the SA20 certainly helped in that moment, specifically that last over, because I had worked on those plans with my Royals coach (former New Zealand fast bowler) Shane Bond in hitting those wide yorkers with my field set to the off side,” Yusuf told Independent Newspapers.

“The SA20 is an unbelievable competition to be a part of. You take learnings from it every day because you feel that pressure from ball one. It helps when you come back to domestic cricket.”

Yusuf has certainly benefited from having access to coaches like Bond and Proteas legend and Lions bowling coach Allan Donald of late.

It has helped him stay ahead of the pack, despite the Lions having a plethora of seam bowling options such as Proteas Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lutho Sipamla, Tshepo Moreki and former captain Malusi Siboto at their disposal during various stages of the campaign.

Yusuf, who is the Lions’ leading seam bowler in the CSA T20 Challenge with 14 wickets at an average of 19.07, feels Donald’s presence and the stiff competition at the Wanderers has forced him to raise his game.

“AD has brought a level of intensity to our training sessions. He is always encouraging us to train like it’s an international environment. It has certainly helped us in this T20 competition,” said Yusuf.

“Regarding all the bowlers, sometimes it’s frustrating to miss out, but you know at the Lions there are a lot of Proteas, so you push yourself harder because competition is always a good motivating factor.”

Yusuf has starred in one final for the Lions already this season, although that was more with bat in hand when he scored an invaluable 34 and 46 batting at No 9 and 10 respectively, his lower-order contributions helping the Lions produce a miracle come-from-behind victory over Western Province in the CSA First-Class showpiece.

It is, however, with the ball that the Lions will be looking for the Delfos Cricket Club pacer to make an impact in tomorrow’s T20 Challenge final against the Dolphins at the Bullring.

In particular, they will be eager for him to tame Dolphins opener Khaya Zondo. The experienced right-hander showed in the semi-final against the Warriors that he is not afraid to take on the new ball in the powerplay through a range of inventive stroke-play.

Zondo also has a penchant for targeting the opposition’s leading bowler as he took down the Warriors’ Beyers Swanepoel.

Yusuf is, though, ready to face the challenge head on.

“It’s all about breaking his flow. He was very good in playing those lap shots, but they were all off full tosses from Beyers. He is moving very late, basically at the moment of release, which does make it difficult for the bowler, but it’s all about the execution on the day,” he said.

“He could miss it on Sunday, hit it straight to short fine-leg. I might bowl a peach.

“For me, it’s all about who stays the calmest out in the middle. I think that’s basically the plan for the entire game. Both are good teams with good players. It’s about staying calm in the moment and being brave when required.”