Fresh hope for Jacobs, Warriors
When Davy Jacobs returned home from the 2012 IPL, where he played one match for the Mumbai Indians, he did not think he would ever play cricket again.
A recurring hip injury had recurred once more and his constant putting off of surgery could not be put off any longer. The first signs that something was wrong came after the 2010 Champions League, when his performance and captaincy of the Warriors saw him earn the IPL contract. Jacobs felt pain in his hip joint but was able to continue playing. The niggle came back during his first IPL, then again through the home summer and the next IPL and Jacobs had to seek treatment.
Doctors warned him that he would need a lengthy recovery period and even then, resuming life as a sportsman may not be an option. A few months later, Jacobs was finally ready to take the field again in a first-class match - his first in three seasons - as he tried to limit himself to T20s before that. He returned with a hundred and captained the Warriors to massive upset over the defending champions, the Titans.
"It was really special for me because I really thought I was done after the last IPL," Jacobs told ESPNCricinfo. "When I eventually had the operation it was everything short of a hip replacement. They shaved off bone, the cartilage was gone, it was tough. I was just grateful to be back in the nets a few weeks ago and it was amazing to go to practice. Now, to score a hundred, and be part of a partnership of 200, that was really special."
Both Jacobs and his opening partner, Michael Price, scored centuries in a stand of 201 in the team's second innings. The Warriors had a lead of 60 before that but their contribution took the match out of the Titans reach. It also showed Jacobs that the team were putting their pre-season plans into action, after they made a conscious decision to target the first-wicket stand as an area of improvement.
"It was something we identified as a problem for us in the past and we wanted to find solutions," Jacobs said. "We thought we would try with me going up the order again after I batted lower down before and try to set up the game from there."
With Jacobs fit and in a familiar position, half the concerns were eased. The other half smoothed out with the inclusion of Price, who returned to cricket in 2009 after retiring at the age of 25. Price played for the Eastern Province amateur side and never quite made it when he decided to call time on his cricket days. In his comeback season, he averaged 47.65 and has scored over 700 runs a season since then. "He is very organised, he knows his game well so we've got that area covered now," Jacobs said.
The opening partnership is just one of the things the Warriors hope to get right as they shift focus away from twenty-over cricket, as it has been for the past two seasons, and onto first-class cricket. "Three years ago we made an obvious decision to target the T20 format. It was when the Champions League had just started and we wanted to play in that competition and we did," Jacobs said. "Now, we've gone the other way. The bulk of our planning in the offseason was towards four-day cricket and it's a priority for us this season."
The Warriors competed in the 2010 and 2011 Champions League but ended last and second last in the first-class competition in the same period. They also lost, rather than drew, more games than any other team.
The players they produced for the national team reflected those biases, with Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rusty Theron (currently recovering from a stress fracture) in shorter versions of the game but none of them making the step up. Jacobs hopes the Warriors will soon produce players who can represent South Africa in all formats, especially as Test stalwart Ashwell Prince forms the core of their line-up.
"Colin Ingram has done well for a while and he would like to make the step up, the same for the Smuts brothers, they are exciting players," Jacobs said. Ingram has yo-yoed in and out of national sides and that could change with consistent performances this season.
Others to watch include Gurshwin Rabie, the seam-bowler who took six wickets in the match and Basheer Walters, the quick who enjoyed a five-for. "We've got quite a lot of exciting guys around so there's a lot to look forward to this season," Jacobs said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent