South Africa's discarded Test opener Stephen Cook is set for a bumper summer at home. Not only has Cook been included in the South Africa A side to play India A in a bid to reclaim his Test place, but he will also captain his domestic franchise, the Lions, in all three formats.
At face value, that may present an immediate contradiction. If Cook is able to get back into the national team, he will leave his franchise without a leader. Considering Aiden Markram is the favourite to take over from Heino Kuhn as Test opener, and the Lions' desperation for stability following a season in which they lost five players to corruption-related bans, Cook is an obvious choice. He has led the team in first-class cricket before, but had not been a regular member of the white-ball teams. Now though, he has been confirmed as a participant in all three formats.
"We have been impressed with the manner in which Stephen has been able to head up the team [...] it is aligned to our brand and is themed with discipline, diligence and a fighting spirit," Dr Oupa Nkagisang, chairman of the Lions' board said. "We are clear in our goal to improve on the performance of last season and to put the loss of experienced players behind us. On paper, we have a talented squad that can go head-to-head with the best out there and we are relying on Stephen and the coaching squad to ensure that the performance on the field resembles that."
The Lions went without a trophy last season and have struggled for consistency amid a glut of player departures. Apart from those who were involved in the Ram-Slam corruption saga, Lions also lost Quinton de Kock and Chris Morris to the Titans since both live in Pretoria; and Temba Bavuma has returned to his home in the Cape. For the coming season, they have acquired the services of Omphile Ramela and Beuran Hendricks from the Cobras, and Craig Alexander from the Dolphins. Cook hopes Lions' transition phase is ending.
"We have had time to recover from the movement of players and just seeing the incredible players coming through our ranks, the time is right for us to execute our skills and be a formidable opponent," he said.
Still, the Lions have some uncertainty over personnel as they enter the home summer. Their coach Geoffrey Toyana applied for, and was interviewed for the position of South Africa head coach, until Ottis Gibson's name was mentioned. Up until that point, Toyana was considered to be the favourite for the post. Toyana has been with the squad during the pre-season, but he may still be lost to the Lions given he could become the national assistant coach. The Lions have recently appointed a batting coach, Justin Sammons, and there is talk the national under-19 coach, Lawrence Mahatlane, may be on their radar as well.