Star-studded Warriors start as favourites
If the Warriors had been told five weeks ago that they would face the Lions in the final of the Pro20, they probably would have taken it. The Lions go into the final as definite underdogs. They have just two South African players in their ranks - Neil McKenzie and Alviro Petersen - compared with the Warriors' seven. The names Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Nicky Boje, Johan Botha and Wayne Parnell are enough to intimidate most international opposition, let alone a domestic franchise, particularly one that has been reduced to whipping boys of late.
Since winning the 2006-07 Pro20 crown, the Lions have been on a dizzying, downward spiral. They languished at or near the bottom of the log in both the SuperSport Series and the MTN40 and fared equally poorly in the twenty-over competition. The season after winning the title, they did not manage to beat a single South African franchise in the next edition of the competition. The Lions did, however, earn a victory over Zimbabwe and tied a match with the Eagles. The next season was much of the same, with the Lions losing to every franchise except the Cobras, where the match was tied.
This season, the Gauteng-based franchise has been plagued by more administrative infighting and yet again, they've suffered on the field. A poor four-day campaign and missing out on the final four in the 40-over competition led to many a headline about the Lions meowing like kittens. Their achievement in the Pro20 may be just the remedy to heal a fractured union.
Richard Cameron, one of the Lions' young stars who picked up career-best figures of 4 for 23 against the Titans in the second leg of their semi-final, said the team enjoyed the tag of underdogs. "I think our spirit and togetherness as a team was one of the things that helped us win the semi-final," Cameron said. The Lions are certainly going to need more than just that, if they hope to overcome a talented Warriors side.
History doesn't provide much indication of who the favourites are though. In the three seasons since the Champions Twenty20 League presented itself as an incentive for the domestic Pro20, all six franchises have reached the final. In the first season, when the inaugural Champions League was postponed, the Dolphins (who ended at the bottom of the log this time) and the Titans reached the final. Last season, the Cobras and the Eagles made the trip to India and this year it will be the Lions and the Warriors.
The men from the Eastern Cape are labelled favourites because they have been the in-form side since winning their maiden franchise trophy in the MTN40 just over a month ago. One thing the Lions can hope for is that the likes of Boucher, Kallis, and Ntini will be preoccupied with the impending Indian Premier League. Kallis and Boucher will join up with the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who play the first match on Sunday, so the pair is unlikely to feature in that encounter.
Ntini is representing Chennai this season, and their first match is also on Sunday. He spent a fair amount of time warming their bench last season but has been in sublime form for the Warriors. Ntini is the Warriors' highest wicket-taker in the competition, with 10 wickets at an average of 18.90. Wayne Parnell and Rusty Theron are also IPL players, although this will be their first season in the glamourous competition. Parnell was bought for US $610000 by the Delhi Daredevils while Theron was only just picked up by Kings XI Punjab after a successful season as the best death bowler in the tournament.
While the dollars in their eyes may cloud some of the Warriors' players' views, captain Davy Jacobs has been known to impress upon his troops on the importance of adding to their trophy cabinet. Before the MTN40 he said the team's sponsors, Chevrolet, said they "expected a trophy after three seasons of sponsoring the team." That prediction was spot on. Should the men from the Eastern Cape collect two cups this season, that should keep the men with the money very pleased indeed.
Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg