Warriors search for redemption
The Warriors were the toast of South African cricket last season, winning their first two franchise trophies and dominating the limited-overs forms of the game. Just a few months later, they found themselves in free-fall, sitting at the bottom of the SuperSport Series table and bringing up the rear of their pool in the MTN40. Their chance at redemption comes now, with the Standard Bank Pro20, which starts on Friday.
"We said we want to defend one of our two trophies," Davy Jacobs, the Warriors captain, told ESPNCricinfo. He offered two plausible reasons for the Warriors failing to live up to last season's glory but was quick to say his explanations were not excuses.
"One of the things that happen when you do well is that you lose a lot of players to the national side and we lost a few more than we thought we would," Jacobs said. Colin Ingram, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell and Rusty Theron have all spent a substantial amount of time away from their franchise as they were selected in South African squads. "What hurt us more was that we also lost some of our domestic players through injury." Jacobs was sidelined since the end of the Champions League T20 in October with a hip injury and seamer Garnet Kruger was also out of action because of stress fracture.
Jacobs is now fully fit and played his first innings in almost three months during a warm-up match against Sussex on Thursday. He scored 54 off 32 balls and said it "felt so good to be playing again." He will not be keeping wicket in the tournament because South African stalwart Mark Boucher will be participating after being left out of the World Cup squad. Jacobs also has Ashwell Prince, Theron and Nicky Boje at his disposal, making up a strong Warriors contingent.
With no more national call-ups to disrupt the setup, Jacobs hopes his men can defend their title, so that they can play in the Champions League T20 again. The tournament was special for Jacobs because it led to him securing an IPL contract with the Mumbai Indians and he hopes his experience will serve as example to other players in his team. "There's a massive incentive to play in the Champions League. As a domestic player, it's the biggest thing you can play in and it can be life changing. The only reason I got my IPL deal was because of the Champions League."
Jacobs is not the only one thinking about the lucrative tournament. Ryan McLaren of the Knights, who participated in the Champions League in 2009, also said the competition is a "major incentive." Daryn Smit of the Dolphins, who qualified for the inaugural tournament in 2008 but never got to play in it because it was cancelled after the Mumbai terror attacks, said his side would like to get back an opportunity they never had. "We still feel a bit sore because we were never able to get to the Champions League and I hope this is our season. The work ethic under Graham Ford is the best I've seen in seven years of being here so we are ready."
Alviro Petersen, captain of the Lions, who participated in last season's Champions League was quick to warn that the competition can make the final of the domestic Pro20 an ordinary affair. "When we got to the final we relaxed a little because we knew we were in the Champions League and didn't go out wholeheartedly to win it." This time, they have no intention of doing only half the job and will be bolstered by the addition of Gulam Bodi and Alfonso Thomas for the tournament.
Most of the teams are heeding Petersen's warning and remain focused on winning the local Pro20 before thinking of bigger things. The Titans, who have not won the competition since the 2007-8 season, are hankering after a trophy and captain Jacques Rudolph is targeting Pro20 silverware. "We pride ourselves on a being a stand-out franchise," he said. The Titans have big-hitting allrounder Albie Morkel as their trump card after he missed out on World Cup selection.
They kickstart their campaign against the Cobras, a squad brimming with former national players - Herschelle Gibbs and Justin Kemp are their headline acts with Charl Langeveldt, Justin Ontong and Claude Henderson adding international experience.
This will be the last Pro20 sponsored by Standard Bank and Cricket South Africa is reportedly in advanced negotiations with another company to back the tournament from next season.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent