Lions' chance to adorn trophy cabinet
Little over three weeks ago, brightly coloured sashes were being put up over the Wanderers in preparation for the Champions League.
Then, the Lions were holding one of their first practice sessions ahead of the tournament and happily shared their nets with Auckland. There was a quiet sense of anticipation among them which was eclipsed by feelings of great resolve. Had they been told then that one of them would qualify to the main draw and then cause a major upset and the other would spring an even greater surprise by making it to the final, they might have only smiled knowingly -- such was the confidence in both camps.
It is the Lions' achievement which has resulted in the stadium gaining its latest accessory: 'Sold Out' signs which adorn the office gates of the grand old lady, who will once again welcome over 30,000 people. Given that it's the Sydney Sixers who will be contesting the final against them, most of those people will cheer for the Lions.
The last time that many people packed into the Bullring to cheer on their domestic team could have been before the CSA bonus scandal broke over three years ago, the economic collapse of 2008 or maybe even before twenty-over cricket had its own World Cup in 2007. It really is difficult to remember when that was.
For five seasons, the trophy cabinet on Corlett Drive has not had reason to be opened because nothing came in. The Lions reached the final of the 2008-09 season domestic T20 competition and did the same last season. Both times they ended up empty handed.
Very few people would have tipped them to get this far in the CLT20. Even fewer will expect them to give the administrators reason to dig out the key for that accolades cupboard. But Lions' captain Alviro Petersen does not mind. Commentators have compared him to MS Dhoni in his icy mannerisms and he is not an easy man to read. When is he tense, when does he smile? Who knows?
When he posted the only single figure score in South Africa's emphatic Test victory over England at the Oval in July (Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis also batted in that match and all scored centuries), he met unjustified criticism with a stony glare and nothing else. Then, he went on to score a big hundred in the next match. That's Petersen and although he has not contributed much with the bat, his unfussed leadership is one of the Lions' best assets.
Their other strengths are more obvious to identify. Gulam Bodi has turned into the most reliable opener in the tournament, Neil McKenzie is the sage in the middle order and Quinton de Kock, the fire, although he hasn't set the stage alight every time. Sohail Tanvir and Dirk Nannes lead the attack with experience, Chris Morris ignites it with pace and Aaron Phangiso is the silent assassin - who gives away little and always ends up with much reward. They rely on unity to succeed and it's taken them to the final.
Sydney, on the other hand, were always seen as one of the favourites to go far in the tournament. With a pace attack that reflects Australia's depth, they have scared as well as dominated batting line-ups. Although hype has been built around Pat Cummins, who will now return to the scene of his spectacular Test debut, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have jostled for space under spotlight. Both have displayed maturity and control and add that to their natural skills and you have two highly competent and dangerous bowlers.
It does not end there for Sydney though. Even without Shane Watson, their so-called other bowlers provide more than adequate back-up. Moises Henriques is enjoying the form of his life, having done well in the lead up to the tournament and then used it as a vehicle to showcase his all-round skills.
The contest could be decided on whether Sydney's young trio can outbowl the Lions' varied attack. It may also lie in whether the batsmen on either side can withstand. Perhaps the same battle lines will define the upcoming Test series between South Africa and Australia but for now the focus is more micro. The Lions' batting, with some national presence in Petersen, has looked fragile but somehow has only been broken once. That was by Sydney in Cape Town ten days ago.
Conditions at the Wanderers will be markedly different though with pace and bounce playing more of a part. Most notably, the Lions will have thousands behind them, something Sydney thought would be intimidating enough at SuperSport Park. Peter Nevill described beating a team at home as the "biggest hurdle" and Sydney already managed that against the Titans.
Despite massive support, the Titans' could not use what Matthew Maynard called their 12th man to post a victory. But they have added their voices to the cheers for the Lions. It is a rare message of support from one to the other, especially because the rivalry between these two South African sides has been fierce. "We came close but I hope they go one better," Martin van Jaarsveld, Titans captain said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent