South African domestic news September 16, 2009

An openly competitive season in the offing

Cricket South Africa has proudly proclaimed that the upcoming domestic competition will be a showcase of the country's cricketing depth. The South African governing body said the talent pool this season is "greater than at any stage of the post-unity era."

Perhaps they shouldn't brag about the extent of capacity just yet. The debate is raging on about who is being groomed to succeed Mark Boucher as the country's wicketkeeper. AB de Villiers is tipped to be next in line but at the franchise-level, few keepers have staked their claim. This may just be their season.

Last season, Davey Jacobs (Warriors) and Morne van Wyk (Eagles) stood out as the top wicketkeepers but some eyes may drift westward where Bradley Barnes will be donning the gloves for the Cape Cobras. Barnes was an integral part of the national Under-19 team that went to the World Cup in Malaysia last year. The wicketkeeping role appears to be the one area franchise players are most likely to be aggressively battling over this season.

Places in the national team are not the only accolades worth fighting for among the franchises. This season is set to be one of the most "openly" competitive seasons for the three trophies on offer, according to Cricket South Africa. The games begin on Thursday where the Eagles host the Cobras in the first SuperSport series match of the season. The two teams are off to an early start in the cricketing calendar, since they will be headed to India for the Champions League Twenty20 in October.

The Cobras have been bolstered by the return of the big-hitting Justin Kemp, who has ended his Kolpak deal with Kent. They also have former Warriors players Robin Peterson and Mario Olivier joining their franchise. The Cobras are the defending Standard Bank Pro20 series champions but coach Shukri Conrad said they want to target the longer version of the game this season.

A team that has excelled in the SuperSport Series is the Eagles. The team from the Free State rarely gets disturbed by national call-ups. They welcome back Johan van der Wath who was involved with the rebel Indian Cricket League. He will miss the season's opening fixture because of county commitments.

The Eagles and the Titans are the two teams expected to do battle for the SuperSport Series with the latter boasting a wealth of national players. AB de Villiers, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Roelof van der Merwe and Albie and Morne Morkel will all make the rare appearance for their franchise. In addition to their big guns, the Titans will hope players such as Farhaan Berhardien and Heino Kuhn stake a claim for higher honours. The South African spin doctors may also be keeping a watchful eye on Imran Tahir who is now eligible to play for the country.

Two of the teams who usually perform admirably but are not quite good enough are the Warriors and the Dolphins. They have suffered contrasting fates over the off season with the Warriors losing key players and the Dolphins gaining some. The men from the Eastern Cape have lost Peterson, Olivier and Zander de Buryn but have gained the services of Nicky Boje. Although they may be feeling a little depleted, the Warriors are also home to Johan Botha, Ashwell Prince, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Makhaya Ntini and Wayne Parnell.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have Lance Klusener as part of their coaching staff and have signed fiery opener Loots Bosman. Both these are due a good performance as the Warriors have never won a trophy since the start of the franchise system and the Dolphins have only ever shared the SuperSport Series title.

The Lions have a solitary Pro20 crown to their name but that seems to have been forgotten in the pitiful meows the team has squeaked out in the past two seasons. Dave Nosworthy goes into his second season in charge of the team and said that with their pre-season training running from June he expects better results from his men. The Lions will have captain Neil McKenzie to lead the side for most of the season and have also acquired the services of offspinner Thandi Tshabalala, fast bowler Ugasen Govender and veteran de Bruyn.

Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg