Less than two points separated the winners from the runners-up in South Africa's first-class competition, which saw Knights claim their first cup in seven seasons. In a closely-fought competition, no team won more than four matches and all six were still in the running on the final weekend. A healthy first-class structure is vital for the success of a Test team and the signs are good that South Africa will be well-stocked in the future.
The best attack wins
Obviously. Taking 20 wickets is the essence of long-format cricket and Knights did it more times than anyone else. They dismissed their opposition 14 times in their 10 matches, the rest of the teams managed it 12 (Cobras and Titans) and 11 times (Lions, Dolphins and Warriors). Duanne Olivier and Marchant de Lange finished first and second on the wicket charts with 52 and 34 scalps respectively and Olivier earned a mid-season call-up to the Test side that will surely translate into a longer stint across tours in New Zealand and England but it was not only the premier pacemen who did the job for Knights.
Shadley van Schalkwyk was seventh on the bowling charts after contributing 29 wickets and Mbulelo Budaza picked up 15. That all four of the Knights' frontliners are quicks speaks volumes about their penetrative ability because this franchise's home games are played on two of the flattest surfaces in the country, in Bloemfontein and Kimberley.
Get more of the old guard involved
Good coaches are not necessarily made out of good players but it cannot be ignored that the three teams in the top half of the table are all managed by former internationals in their first full-time stints in charge. Nicky Boje (Knights), Mark Boucher (Titans) and Ashwell Prince (Cobras) were all part of a golden generation of South African players and are now transferring their knowledge. They may inspire the likes of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Jacques Rudolph, Robin Peterson and Herschelle Gibbs to follow in their footsteps but perhaps more crucially, with Russell Domingo unsure if he will reapply for his job when his contract expires after the England tour, they may be putting themselves in the frame to take over the South Africa job. Keeping former players close can only work for a country and South Africa have finally started to do this more regularly.
Although South Africa's Test top seven are well settled, there is a spot for a reserve batsman in the touring party to New Zealand with Rilee Rossouw signing a Kolpak deal and three candidates stand out. Theunis de Bruyn, the Knights captain, finished third on the run charts with 751 runs at 57.76 and was sandwiched between two Dolphins batsmen who are making strong cases of their own. Vaughn van Jaarsveld, who celebrated 100 first-class appearances this season, was second with 799 runs at 53.26 and Khaya Zondo was fourth with 740 at 67.27. Zondo's progress is particularly notable because he is one of a handful of black African specialist batsmen plying their trade domestically. After an aborted start to his international career - he was part of the South African ODI squad that traveled to India in late 2015 and then did not play a game - to see him come good will please the selectors.
Warriors need to work on local talent
There's a reason the top-ranked batsman was not mentioned in the previous point and that's because he has joined the Kolpak ranks. Colin Ackermann, a 25-year-old from Warriors, scored 883 runs at 51.94 and is headed to Leicestershire, where he will play on a Dutch passport, perhaps with a view to representing Netherlands in the future. Ackermann was one of the few shining lights in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Warriors, who have more to worry about than their last-placed finish. Their top bowler was their captain Simon Harmer, who has also signed a Kolpak deal and with Colin Ingram also part of their squad, their number of overseas-based players sits at three. Cricket SA are currently debating whether to limit the number of Kolpak players in the system and if they do Warriors could be the biggest casualty.
And Lions on their depth
After several seasons of producing players for the national side - Quinton de Kock, Stephen Cook, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius, Hardus Viljoen, Aaron Phangiso and Eddie Leie - Lions are used to having their squad depleted but they will not consider a fifth-placed finish good enough. Dominic Hendricks was their top run-scorer and ninth overall - and Hardus Viljoen (Kolpak) led their wicket-takers but they will want to source some senior players to hold their group together. With Cook and Rabada on Test duty more often than not, Lions may have to look beyond their borders to lure a veteran player into their ranks while they continue to develop young talent.
In safe hands
Quinton de Kock could become the Mark Boucher of his era, which will leave several wicket-keepers with little hope of making the step up but South Africa will want to be careful of becoming over-dependent on him, especially because there are options if de Kock needs some rest. The best news is that the options can all bat. Knights' gloveman Rudi Second was sixth on the run charts, one place ahead of Titans' Heinrich Klaasen. Lions' Mangaliso Mosehle lay outside the top twenty but is regarded as the man with the safest hands out of the three and was picked in South Africa's T20 squad. With Dane Vilas (Kolpak) out of the international picture and AB de Villiers not available for Test cricket for the rest of 2017, South Africa may pick from the trio for their trips to New Zealand and England.