Low-profile Dolphins look for big impact
How they got to the CLT20
After missing out on a place in South Africa's domestic 50-over competition final, following a loss in the play-off match, Dolphins showed they were serious about silverware in the 20-over campaign. They went unbeaten in their first six matches of the tournament - which included a tie - and then won two of the next four to qualify for the playoff. The match was pushed into reserve day because of rain and Dolphins downed Titans thanks to David Miller's 93 off 37 balls, which booked their spot in the final. There, they beat Cobras by two runs in a last-ball thriller to claim their first outright trophy in the franchise era - they had previously shared two first-class cups - and head to the Champions League Twenty20 as South Africa's champions.
Teams that emerge out of swathes of mediocrity to register surprising success often credit a change in mindset and that is exactly what happened to Dolphins. After Lance Klusener took over as head coach mid-way through the 2012-13 season, the franchise was forced to re-examine their status as perennial mid- and lower-table occupiers and be prepared to break out of that. Klusener demanded more from them and gave of himself in return by teaching them how to win again. Morne van Wyk, the Dolphins captain, told ESPNcricinfo his team feels like it is building its own culture. That sense of identity and belief is often a game-changer, in every sense. Despite not being laden with big names, Dolphins have developed collectively and their mantra is to play for each other. That sense of unity can be important in a competition where the composition of some of their opposition changes regularly.
Dolphins do not have a single nationally contracted player, which hints at their significantly lower-profile when compared to some of their opponents. Although many of the Dolphins players have traveled to India on training camps, and occasionally for competitions, the experience of the country during a major event will be a first for most of them and they will need to ensure they are not overawed by what lies ahead. Conditions will also be a challenge for a team that is used to pitches with more pace, bounce and carry, and less turn. The absence of their leading batsman, Miller, and one of their best containing bowlers Mthokozisi Shezi will not help either. While Miller is turning out for Kings XI Punjab, Shezi changed franchises over the winter.
Players to watch
The headline grabber in the Dolphins squad, apart from their coach, is Miller, who was the leading run-getter in the Ram Slam T20 challenge last season. In Miller's absence, however, the focus will be on some of the other men in the side. Kyle Abbott made his reputation in his debut Test with swing and bounce but has since shown the ability to squeeze up the runs, especially at the death, as well. Abbott was the second-highest wicket-taker in Ram Slam Challenge with 16 scalps at 18.62. The Dolphins will also rely heavily on captainMorne van Wyk, with his lengthy experience and knowledge of Indian conditions from the 2011 World Cup. Van Wyk was the third-highest run-getter for Dolphins in the T20 competition last season and seventh on the overall list of run-scorers. He established himself as a player with a calm demeanour and a gutsy leader when he played for another South African franchise, the Knights, for a large part of his career.
Newbie to watch out for
A product of Maritzburg College, the school that also educated Jonty Rhodes and Kevin Pietersen, Daryn Dupavillon is one of the promising players Klusener has predicted big things for. The 20-year-old right-arm fast bowler took seven wickets on his franchise first-class debut last summer but had limited opportunity in an attack dominated by Abbott, Craig Alexander and Robbie Frylinck. But that does not mean there isn't space for Dupavillon, who has only played one T20. This competition could see him get regular game time and an opportunity to show off his raw pace.
Before this year, Dolphins were the only South African franchise to have not competed in the Champions League T20. They had qualified for the 2008 tournament which was cancelled after the Mumbai terror attacks.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent