Warriors bank on bowling unit
There's an unmistakeable air of goofiness about Rusty Theron, which makes him an endearing person to talk to. His conversational skills in many ways mirror his bowling - amiable at the outset, but founded upon a lucid understanding of his abilities. He is the designated death specialist in the Warriors attack - a bunch of six world-class bowlers with international experience, who form arguably the most dynamic bowling unit in the Champions League.
Makhaya Ntini may not have the pace he once had, but his experience alone adds an extra dimension to the line-up. Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe are both left-arm seamers but the similarity in their methods ends there. Theron will back them up in the end overs, with an approach to the slog that is unparalleled. Unlike most death bowlers, he isn't speedy, and doesn't always rely on yorkers. Instead, he comes armed with a different pace and a different length for every occasion, and hoodwinks batsmen by scrambling his lines often enough to leave them clueless. How does he manage to keep his wits about himself through the process?
"I very much enjoy it," is Theron's smiling take on bowling at the end of an innings. "I sort of have fun with taking a step back at times, and looking at the batsmen and seeing what they are actually up to. There's always something special to do at the end of the innings - maybe [a] six needed off the last ball, or defending a few runs off a few balls. Some people take it as a lot of pressure on them, but I look at it as an opportunity to stand up and leave a mark on the game."
The readiness to absorb pressure is only one aspect of it. Theron complements it with years of practice that have gone into perfecting his art. "As a kid I always loved to be out there playing cricket or having nets with my brother. He was a very good left-arm seamer and could bowl really quick.
"I was 10 and I just used to tag along with him and bowl at international players. I was lucky to train with people like Kepler Wessels and other first-class cricketers. When you are at the nets you experiment and fool around a bit, and out of that you get some really good things."
In addition to their fast-bowling riches, Warriors also have the services of two of the best spinners to have emerged from South Africa. Nicky Boje and captain Johan Botha are the chalk and cheese of spin-bowling pairs: Boje is a left-armer who plugs away on a length, while Botha calls upon subtle changes in pace, trajectory and flight. Together, they rush through the middle overs and before the batsmen know it, time is almost up.
"I think we just work nicely together," Boje says, of his association with Botha. "You got a right-arm spinner, a left-arm spinner and all the different variations. I think if you can do the job properly, those overs go by quickly and that means the pressure is on the batters."
Botha also stresses on the importance of zipping through the post-Powerplay phase. "I think Boje and I just try and read the game after the first six overs, when sides have a go at the bowling. That period from overs 7-13 or 14 is key, and a lot of the time that's when you win or lose the game."
Botha is happy to have a "bunch of guys who know they must be ready to bowl almost any one of the 20 overs". His worries lie with the batting line-up, inexperienced in the absence of their talismanic pace-setter Davy Jacobs, who will be playing for Mumbai Indians.
"We have some quality young batsmen and we want to give them a really good opportunity to show people on the world stage," Botha said. "But, unlike the bowlers, most of them have never been here before. A lot of them have never played in front of 60,000 people and it is important they can keep their calm in the heat of the moment.
"We have got most bases covered on the bowling front, but the key is going to be our batting. Looking at it experience-wise, the bowlers are going to have to take the lead and set it up for the youngsters."
Given the class and depth in his bowling arsenal, Botha needn't be too concerned. If Warriors play their cards right, their attack could run into Jacobs later in the tournament. Now that's a contest worth waiting for.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo