South Africa news September 24, 2014

Titans aim to solve opening woes

Starting well is a common aim among all sports teams and for Titans it takes on a more literal meaning when the domestic season begins on Thursday. A solid opening stand is foremost on their wishlist after they struggled for stability and certainty last year, particularly in first-class cricket.

In eight matches over the 2013/14 summer, Titans' opening partnership averaged 19.86 and managed only one half-century stand. They used Heino Kuhn and Francois le Clus at the top for the first six matches, apart from one innings when Jacques Rudolph played in that position.

As the tournament wound down, Ernest Kemm and Theunis de Bruyn were given opportunities at the top. They provided that solitary fifty stand, but neither is likely to continue.

Nor will Rudolph, who has only made himself available for Titans' one-day campaign, like last season. As a result, Titans have opted not to contract him.

Instead, they have acquired the services of South African Test opener Dean Elgar, who will be available for at least the first two matches and most of the latter part of the first-class campaign. He will partner Kuhn, who has recovered from a finger injury, which will give Titans a level of experience they lacked at the top last season.

"We will be toying with combinations but we have to start transitioning now," Titans' coach Rob Walter told ESPNcricinfo. "We'll definitely give some of the youngsters a chance as we look to move on from the retirements of the likes of Martin van Jaarsveld and Jacques not being available for the first-class game."

Rudolph was part of South Africa's Test team less than two years ago, but appears to have shelved his desire to make a third comeback in the longest format and is targeting a limited-overs return instead. Rudolph has only played 45 ODIs for South Africa and last played fifty-over cricket at international level eight years ago, but his hopes are rooted in recent form.

He was the highest run-scorer in the Royal London One-Day Cup, where he played for Glamorgan. His 575 runs came in eight matches at 82.14 and included three hundreds and three fifties. He was also fourth on the NatWest t20 Blast run-charts with 543 runs from 13 innings at 60.33, with six fifties.

Rudolph will be competing against the likes of Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy for a place in South Africa's ODI XI, but could also bat in the middle-order, where David Miller has struggled for form. With the domestic one-day cup taking place just before the World Cup, Rudolph may yet squeeze his way in.

While Walter will give Rudolph, along with all his other players, "the best chance," of catching the national selectors' eyes, his primary focus is on filling the Titans' trophy cabinet. They shared the one-day cup after it was rained out last season but have not won a competition in two seasons, an unusual occurrence for a franchise who usually enjoy more success. "The Titans have a very proud history and there's always expectation to do well," Walter said.

But those hopes have to tempered with the reality that Titans need more from their batsman, who were the weak link last season. "Our batting let us down, even as the bowling got better and we won the last two matches, we need big hundreds from the batsmen," Walter said. "We'd love to win the first-class competition but to do that we will have to play better cricket and that's our first focus."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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