Lions out for another IPL scalp
When the Lions lined up against Mumbai Indians for the first match of the Champions League T20 in 2010, there were very few people expecting anything from them. Most of the crowd cheered Mumbai, even though the match was played at the Wanderers, and Indian flags waved from the stands.
There was a moment of stunned silence when a young allrounder Shane Burger dismissed every young boy's cricketing hero Sachin Tendulkar. As the match turned, so did the spectators and at the end the Lions had a big victory and some of their home fans back.
As luck would have it, the Lions have been drawn to open their CLT20 campaign against the Mumbai Indians again and they are expecting a grudge match. "They will come at us this time around," Lions captain Alviro Petersen said. "In 2010, they were the favourites to win and we just did things well. One or two guys made big plays for us. This time will want to prove a point. They won't want to lose to the same opposition twice."
The Lions of 2012 are an improved version of the team they were just two years ago. Then wide-eyed and largely inexperienced, they were just in it for the fun. This time they are in it to win it. "When we played the first one the guys didn't really understand what it was all about, especially guys who have not played international cricket," Petersen said. "This time, we're more aware of what we need to do, how we need to go about things. The preparation has been important for us and it has gone very well."
Like the other South African franchises, the Lions have had two first-class matches to start the season. They lost the first one badly but stormed to victory in the second, defending a small total on the fourth morning. Chris Morris, who was their top wicket-taker in T20s in the domestic competition, took 12 wickets in that match and is looking in top form ahead of the format he has gained the most recognition in.
Petersen thinks Morris' development was spurred on by the inclusion of two overseas players in last season domestic tournament. Dirk Nannes and Sohail Tanvir will play for the Lions in the CLT20 as well and have turned their attack from middling to close to magnificent. "The bowling unit has come on in leaps and bounds," Petersen said. "Having the internationals helps bringing in other bowlers through as well. Chris Morris came through really nicely last year and I think they had a lot to do with that. It's not just about performance; it's what they bring us a package."
The same statement can be said for the way the Lions approach the game as a whole. There is a noticeable seriousness about them. "Twenty-over cricket is not really a slog at all. We've seen that you've got to have structure to it," Petersen said. "Power, skill all that sort of stuff are the key ingredients to being successful in T20 cricket. But most important is to have structure."
Petersen said the importance of having a plan is evident in the fact that the batsmen who succeed in the format are all strong across longer versions of the game as well. "It has been shown over the years that the guys with good techniques have come out on top in T20 cricket over a long period of time." As recently as in the first match of the tournament, Jacques Rudolph, a batsman thought to be suited to only Test cricket scored a blazing 83 not out for the Titans against Perth.
The same strategic thinking is what Petersen believed will make a good captain in this format. He dismissed the idea of leading by instinct and spur of the moment decisions that people often think are made in twenty-over cricket. "You sometimes get a gut feel but it's really about execution of plans. If you leave it up to gut, you leave it to chance. I don't captain by chance."
The Lions have made sure they leave nothing to fortune ahead of their first match. They spent four days at their smaller home base in Potchefstroom, where they had an intense camp and say they are "absolutely ready," to topple an IPL side once again.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent