Set game plan key to Titans' success
The IPL teams are likely to dominate most of the Champions League headlines, largely because of their star players. But those marquee men all came from somewhere and in this tournament they will be playing against the teams that hail from some of their breeding grounds.
One such unit is the Titans, who have produced IPL favourites like AB de Villiers and Albie Morkel. Their coach Matthew Maynard thinks it no accident that the South Africa's 20-overs competition manufactures players who go on to become successful in overseas leagues because, in his experience, it is specifically geared to do exactly that.
"There's a very high standard here in South Africa," he said. "The format helps to develop that because each competition is held at a separate time in its own window."
South Africa's season usually starts with the first-class competition, which runs for a few weeks until the summer's first Tests. The one-day and 20-overs tournaments take place in their own blocs and are uninterrupted for their full duration. The scheduling is distinctly different to a place like the UK, where various formats are sometimes played back to back.
"That doesn't help preparation," Maynard, who also coached in his home country, said. "With the structure in South Africa, we have time to prepare for each format and then concentrate on each format. And that enables the players to grow faster and become better players quicker. And it shows. The franchise system has been in place eight years or so, and look how strong the national side is. That's because of the nature of the domestic competition; it plays a big part in getting people up and through the system to represent the national team."
Coaching in such a system is also easier, according to Maynard, because it helps him zone in solely on one format. In 20-overs cricket, his method is to assign roles to players, even though the game is unpredictable.
"When you coach domestically, you have to try and get your plans allied to the talent you have," he explained. "Clarity is absolutely key. If the players know their areas, whether it's bowling at the death or in the middle overs and for batsmen, if they know where they have the best option to score, that is key. Then, if they get out or miss lines and lengths when they know what they are trying to achieve, you can make a proper judgment on them."
Maynard's approach is in stark contrast to that of national coach Gary Kirsten, who kept South Africa's batting line-up fluid and did not have set bowling plans at the recent World T20. He explained that the reason for the more rigid set-up could be the level of play. "Internationally you can set the plans and then find people to fulfil the plans because you have players from the six franchises who can fill those roles. But domestically you have to give the roles to the players that you have."
One player who benefits from the set game plan is Titans captain Martin van Jaarsveld, who returned to the team last season after an extensive run at Kent. "I like to be very clear on what we have planned," he said. "There's a lot of pressure on you when you are out there. Everything is happening so quickly so the more you know what your role is, the better."
Van Jaarsveld captained the Titans last season but handed the armband to Henry Davids this summer, although he has been retained as the leader for the Champions League campaign. Although van Jaarsveld does not immediately strike one as a 20-overs heavyweight, his record in the format is exceptional. He has played 124 matches, has a batting average of just under 30 and has scored 18 half-centuries. Overall, he lies 63 runs behind Virender Sehwag and could be one of those players Maynard says has been wrongly labelled as limited to certain formats.
While the growth of 20-overs cricket and the separation of formats in South Africa further allows for that distinction to be made, Maynard said it has to be applied carefully because migration of talent between formats should be promoted.
"Potentially you are going to have individuals who are stronger in a certain format but that shouldn't limit them," he said, endorsing Twenty20 as the format from which players can grow. "Players can work that way: from T20 to first-class. It's more difficult to make a solid Test opening batsman into a smack-it-out-of-the-park T20 specialist."
With a squad that includes Test player Jacques Rudolph, former Test spinner Paul Harris and two first-class veterans in Heino Kuhn and Ethy Mbhalati, the Champions League could be a test for the Titans to prove Maynard wrong on that count.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent