Warriors coach Malibongwe Maketa went to the same school and played in the same provincial team as Makhaya Ntini, but has never really had the chance to go up against him until now. Maketa has been handed the South Africa A coaching duties and will take the team to Zimbabwe, where Ntini is currently the national team's head coach. Maketa admitted he is looking forward to the challenge of facing a former team-mate and another countryman Lance Klusener, who is also working with South Africa's neighbours.
"They'll have a little bit of a know-how of what we are going to bring in terms of intensity with them being South African. And they'll know the aggression we are going to bring and can prepare accordingly," Maketa said. "They could most probably play their Test team so it will give a lot of our guys a lot of confidence to do well."
Zimbabwe, who have yet to confirm a head coach after elevating Ntini to the interim role for their India series last month, will use the two matches as preparation for their upcoming Tests against New Zealand. They have not played Test cricket in 19 months, since a tour to Bangladesh in November 2014, and are likely to give their best players and their new permanent coach a dry run before taking on New Zealand.
That means South Africa A can expect tough competition as their own side prepares for an 11-Test summer which is certain to test their depth. To ensure they have a large pool of players to choose from, South Africa's selectors have sent current Test players and hopefuls on the A trip. Among them are opening batsman Stephen Cook, who will captain the side, recovered quick Vernon Philander, who missed most of last season after tearing ligaments in India, offspinner Dane Piedt, fast bowler Hardus Viljoen who debuted against England last season, and Test discards Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Vilas. Maketa expects all of them to use these matches as auditions for the 2016-17 season.
"We've got guys on different journeys: guys who are preparing for Test matches and guys who are trying to get into Test teams, everybody that's here should believe they are the next best to play for their country," he said. "It's a great opportunity for them to get the first showing in terms of our summer to say to the selectors we are here and ready to play Test cricket."
At the same time, the tour could also be seen as a place for Maketa to show what he is capable of. Although he has only spent one full season in charge of a franchise, and did not win any trophies in his debut summer, Maketa has served as an assistant coach over several more years, with both Warriors and Titans, where he enjoyed success alongside Rob Walter. With pressure mounting on current coach Russell Domingo, it's not too far a leap to conclude that Maketa may be being groomed for higher honours in the future.
If he is, it is something he would welcome. "I would be lying if I said I was not interested in coaching the national team. In whatever career you are at, you want to be the best at it. To coach a national team would be a benchmark for any coach who is out there. I am no different," he said. "At the moment it's great for me as a coach of a team like this, with guys who seriously want to go somewhere. When you've got cricketers who want to go somewhere, you will always be chasing something special."
Maketa will also be in charge of the team when they travel to Australia for two more first-class matches and a quadrangular 50-over tournament and wants to be measured on his results. "It's not easy to stamp my own style on the team in such a short time but what I want is having the common goal of performance," he said. "We measure everybody on performance. In that way, it's much easier for me to measure myself and to measure the team on the journey we are taking."
It will not go amiss in South Africa that Ntini can be measured the same way. The country's third highest Test wicket-taker has never coached at home and, a few weeks ago, lamented the lack of opportunities in an interview with the Sunday Times . Ntini has only enjoyed small success with Zimbabwe. They won one T20 against India in an otherwise dismal series but if he can build on that, South African administrators may come calling for him too.