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The Lions, after a few years of mediocrity, are showing signs of revival with a newfound belief
Firdose Moonda at the Wanderers
October 20, 2012
The Wanderers Club, not to be confused with the stadium, sits across the road from the grand lady and is in some ways equally grand. The main building is a stately structure of brown-face brick that was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it in 2004 - on the same night South Africa A were playing New Zealand at the stadium. The two small fields next to it are picture-perfect club cricket venues, one of them with a tree within the boundary. It is on this one that the leftover Lions - the ones not part of Lions' Champions League squad - have been training every morning.
The likes of Steven Cook, Eddie Leie and Hardus Viljoen are among this lot. They cannot use their own nets because they are being commandeered by CLT20 sides and don't have any of their coaches with them. But between 9am and noon, they have made sure they keep up with their program. Maybe there is nothing remarkable about that observation except to say that such commitment and pride was absent in the Lions a few years ago.
Five seasons without silverware has had an effect on the team, who spent the mid-section of that time in some sort of slumber of mediocrity. Taking 20 wickets was beyond them, scoring runs went better but they battled to get enough and in the shadows of the Titans and Cobras there was not much belief.
You may ask why that did not affect the other three South African franchises. The Dolphins are probably worse off, having become the whipping boys. The Warriors won two trophies recently and the Knights have always had a strong culture to fall back on. The Lions did not seem to have much.
The 2010 Champions League changed things only slightly. They beat Mumbai Indians in the opener but faded and then it was business as usual. This time it is different. The Lions went into the competition on the back of a morale boosting first-class win over the Dolphins. In unlikely circumstances, the Lions took six wickets on the final morning, with only 96 runs to play with. Confidence ran high.
So did calmness. Alviro Petersen, the Lions captain, is one of the least fussed cricketers out there. He treats delight and disappointment with the same coldness - just the right temperature to show he is enjoying it but not enough to look gluttonous. Even on watching the team qualify for the semi-finals, he smiled gently while the rest of the squad stormed the field as though they had won a World Cup.
"We've done well as a unit so far. We knew that we would have to do well together and not focus on individuals," he said afterwards. "But we have only performed at about 75% in the last three games. There is still a lot of work to do. We want to get to 90% by the semi-final."
The Lions depth is evident. In every match they have had a different hero and the two overseas players, Sohail Tanvir and Dirk Nannes, have done well without overshadowing the local talent. Most impressively, they have got themselves out of tough situations in three of the four matches they played, the exception being against Sydney Sixers.
It requires a certain mental fortitude that South African sides are said to lack. The Lions seem to have some of it. "You have to keep calm and back yourself. It helps when you know you are probably going to win," Jean Symes, the Man of the Match against Yorkshire said. Symes, for the second time, showed maturity in a chase and said he does it by, "just keeping on going, getting bat on ball, the boundary will come."
With the Titans looking set to take one of the other spots in the last four, South African cricket is on track to overturn its major tournament record and some may already be thinking about them ridding themselves of the chokers' tag somewhat. The Lions cannot look that far ahead yet but have already shown that confidence, calmness and commitment are their c-words.
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