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October 13, 2012
The Big Picture
In 2010, the Lions won hearts and some matches. They beat Mumbai Indians, who are also in their group this time around, in the tournament opener and missed out on a spot in the playoffs because of net-run rate.
Since then, they have become a much-improved unit in all formats although they have no silverware to show for it. They dominated last season's domestic twenty-over competition and beat the eventual champions, Titans, twice in the round-robin stage.
Chris Morris, the seamer, was the find of the tournament. He topped the bowling charts with 21 wickets at an average of 12.66 and earned himself a place in South Africa's squad for the unofficial T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe. Jacques Faul, CSA acting chief executive, mentioned Morris when speaking about future players for the national side.
In the domestic campaign, the highest run-scorer for Lions was Quinton de Kock with 324 runs at an average of 36.00 and a strike-rate of 160. Neil McKenzie was not far behind with 250 runs at an average of 41.66. The lack of a finisher, such as Robbie Frylinck who played for them previously was probably what cost the Lions the trophy but they earned a spot in the Champions League.
The winter saw a change of coach when Dave Nosworthy resigned. Now, former player Geoff Toyana calls the shots at the Wanderers and the players have taken to him immediately, describing him as "relaxed". That is not too surprising, considering that Toyana has played with most of them, be it at club level for Soweto or provincial team level for Gauteng.
Much like the umbrella body for cricket in South Africa, CSA, things behind the scenes at the Lions' main home ground have not been running smoothly. The Gauteng Cricket Board, one of the two affiliates who make up the Lions, has been under administration and infighting has affected club structures this season. Petersen has kept the politics away from the Lions as far as possible and a good performance may help easing those tensions.
How they qualified
Runners-up of the South African domestic twenty-over competition, after losing to the Titans by 45 runs in the final.
There is nothing about the Lions that does not involve Neil McKenzie. Whether he is strapping his bat to the ceiling of their changeroom to pander to his superstitions or using it in the middle to further their cause, McKenzie is to the Lions what bread is to a sandwich. He is the backbone of their batting, a former captain with inspirational ability to motivate youngsters and is the highest run-scorer in twenty-over cricket at the Wanderers stadium, where the Lions will play two of their group matches. Usually when McKenzie succeeds, so do the Lions and they will hoping for more than a bit of both.
Instead the focus could be on Thami Tsolekile, national wicketkeeper in waiting, who is the Lions' first-choice wicketkeeper. Tsolekile kept for the Lions during their campaign last season and is known in the shorter version of the game as a finisher. He has been in good form with the bat and will want to prove himself in that department, especially since it is seen as the only thing keeping him out of the national side. He is vastly experienced and has acted as captain of the franchise.
Lions have previously struggled to bowl teams out, which becomes a problem when they are defending a total. They have taken steps to rectify that, with the inclusion of Sohail Tanvir and Dirk Nannes but now they can also rely on the promising form of Chris Morris, Pumelela Matshikwe and Ethan O'Reilly. Their spin contingent looks strong with Aaron Phangiso and Jean Symes but whether they can produce results remains to be seen.
Self-belief has been another issue at the franchise. They last won silverware in the 2006-07 season, when they were champions of the domestic twenty-over competition. Since then, they have reached two more twenty-over finals and been outplayed in both. Mid-table hoverers in the other formats, the Lions have mostly lacked the will to go one better. This tournament could see that change.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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