Titans wary of last-minute blunder
From a position where winning looked as casual as a Sunday afternoon drive through the country, the Titans are now on a city road studded with speedbumps as they attempt to qualify for the Champions League semi-finals.
The first team in their way is Auckland Aces. If Auckland can beat Perth Scorchers, who must be down in morale after two losses, Titans will have to do the same against Delhi Daredevils and already seem to fear they have put too much expectation on themselves. "We targeted the game against Kolkata to take the pressure off us," Matthew Maynard, Titans coach lamented. Instead, the Titans lost that match by an embarrassing 99 runs.
"Our disciplines did not reflect our potential [against Kolkata Knight Riders] in Cape Town," Maynard said. "We need Perth to do us a favour against Auckland but if that doesn't happen, we'll have to be ready for Delhi."
Mahela Jayawardene's side are the only remaining IPL team in contention and have what Maynard labelled one of the most "complete sides" in the tournament. Sydney are the other team Maynard sees as being well put together but he only has to worry about them later on, if at all. For now, it's Daredevils that Maynard is concentrating on and their army of "matchwinners".
To begin with, there is Daredevils' top order. "They've got some key destructive batsmen: Jayawardene, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen. They must have the best top three in the competition," Maynard said. "And then, with the bowling, they've got Umesh Yadav's pace."
And of course, they also have Morne Morkel. The lanky quick hails from Titans but chose to represent his IPL franchise instead and is one of three big players, alongside Albie Morkel and Faf du Plessis, who the team lost. Morne had an outstanding return against Scorchers, taking 3 for 19 in his four overs there.
Maynard hopes his charges will not be overwhelmed when they come up against one of their own. "They've faced a lot of [Morne] in the nets over the years, so we'll have our plans to Morne; we know what he does," Maynard said. "We can't be too aggressive against him. He hits such good areas that we will just wait for him to try something."
Some of the Titans' batting plans include using wicketkeeper batsman Heino Kuhn in a floating role. Kuhn batted at No. 3 against Knight Riders and Maynard said he is the "insurance policy in the first six overs". If Titans lose an early wicket, Kuhn will move up the order. If not, Martin van Jaarsveld and Farhaan Behardien will be used to capitalise on a good start. "The idea is for them to take a little bit of time before they play their strokes, because they are both very powerful stroke makers. And then Heino slips down the order."
Titans also hope to spring a surprise with the ball by using little-known (particularly to international teams) David Wiese, who took 1 for 22 against Knight Riders. "Because of our line up, David doesn't get used as much as he could," Maynard said. Offspinner Eden Links cost them 17 runs in his over and Wiese got his chance and took it.
A flexible strategy coupled with the familiar conditions is what Maynard hopes will give the Titans an advantage. They will be back at their home ground in Centurion and the surface at SuperSport Park will likely have more in it for the bowlers than the Newlands pitch did. Maynard believes an IPL side may struggle on such a track. "Because of the inclement weather in Cape Town, the wicket wasn't quite as dry, and the ball stuck - in which resembled Indian conditions a bit more. With the pitches on the Highveld, more backfoot play comes into it, but quick backfoot play," he explained.
Despite all the pros and cons, Maynard said Titans know they are up against it but want to use it as an opportunity to show why they are South Africa's most successful franchise. "It's going to be a very tough contest but if we play to our potential, which we did in the first two matches, we can beat them. That's what we've got to do to compete with these guys."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent