South Africa domestic September 19, 2012

Season of change for Titans and Cobras

South Africa's first-class competition may not have the same aura as its English counterpart, but it is still regarded as one of the best breeding grounds for Test cricketers. Since the franchise system started in 2004-05, the quality of the contests has become stronger and the cricketers produced have shown a readiness for a bigger stage.

Last summer, the tournament went down to the final weekend, and this time the level of competition is expected to be just as strong.


Captain Henry Davids
Coach Matthew Maynard

What's changed
Most noticeably, the captaincy. Martin van Jaarsveld, who had a torrid time on his return to the South African domestic scene, has been replaced by Henry Davids. Less obvious could be the change in mood. A double tragedy struck in the off season and its effects could linger over the camp. The Titans will have to move on without long-serving chief executive Elise Lombard, who died of a heart attack in August, and coach Matthew Maynard lost his son, Tom, in an accident in the UK. Usually one of the most festive franchises, the Titans may be tinged with sadness this season.

How they fared last season
The Titans won the competition with five victories from ten fixtures. Their season did not begin as planned, though, with a loss in their opening match to the Knights at home. They recovered to win in Durban against the Dolphins the following week. The pattern continued with a big win over the Lions and an innings defeat to the Cobras. By mid-season, the Titans were barely in contention. They gained consistency after that and three more wins secured the title.

Faf du Plessis earned his Test call-up due to his 599 runs from four matches while new captain Davids was their most consistent player, with 637 runs from nine matches at an average of 37.47. Rowan Richards was their highest wicket-taker - 26 at 20.07, including two five-wicket hauls.

Who to watch
Mangaliso Mosehle is on wicketkeeper watch as South Africa continue their search for a permanent replacement for Mark Boucher. Spinner Paul Harris still has a point to prove after he was dropped from the national team. Farhaan Behardien is trying to secure a spot in it.


Captain Justin Ontong
Coach Paul Adams

What's changed
Everything. With Richard Pybus resigning the post under a cloud - he said he was being undermined by the chief executive Andre Odendaal - the Cobras have new management. Paul Adams will hope to bring his knowledge of the international game into his first venture as a franchise coach. Justin Kemp has handed the armband to Justin Ontong, who will head up a unit that is used to winning but only had one trophy to show for it last season.

How they fared last season
Participation in the CLT20 meant that the Cobras' domestic season started later than normal but they made an impact immediately with an eight-wicket win over the Warriors. Innings victories over the Titans and Lions set them up well before their first defeat came - a shock result at the hands of the Warriors. They rallied to beat the Knights comprehensively but three draws and a narrow loss to the Titans at home ended up proving decisive. They remained on top of the table until the final weekend when they had to beat the Lions but were held to a draw.

Justin Ontong scored 658 runs at an average of 59.81 to finish as their leading run-scorer while Dane Vilas caught the national selectors' attention, averaging 48 with his with 528. Johann Louw and Rory Kleinveldt were the chief destroyers with 33 and 32 wickets respectively.

Who to watch
Monde Zondeki makes his return to professional cricket after injuries forced him to lose his contract for a significant period. Dane Piedt and Siya Simetu are two spinners who have registered on the radar.


Captain Morne van Wyk
Coach Sarel Cilliers

What's changed
The Knights have been consistent in the engine room and the playing field for many seasons and will continue in that vein this summer. Morne van Wyk continues to lead a familiar squad of few superstars.

How they fared last season
Promise faded into mid-table mediocrity as the Knights surged to three wins from their first four fixtures but then compiled a succession of draws to finish third. Victories over the Titans, Dolphins and Warriors were followed by two draws. Remarkably, they only lost once but it was a heavy defeat. An innings-and-54 run humiliation at the hands of the Cobras preceded two more draws but they ended the season on a high, with a win over the Warriors.

van Wyk continued his evergreen form with 754 runs at an average of 44.35. He was closely followed by Reeza Hendricks, who featured in the South Africa A side after scoring 748 runs. Experience topped the bowling charts with Quinton Friend claiming 40 wickets and Johan van der Wath, 34.

Who to watch
Hendricks and Rilee Rossouw are both pushing for national selection. With runs aplenty between them in seasons past, they must feel they don't need many more before the national selectors come calling.


Captain Alviro Petersen
Coach Geoffrey Toyana

What's changed
The bowling attack. The Lions have headhunted two strike bowlers in paceman Hardus Viljoen and legspinner Imran Tahir to bolster their ranks. Dave Nosworthy's resignation paved the way for Geoffrey Toyana to take over as coach. As a former first-class cricketer, Toyana knows the structures at the union well and is also South Africa's first black African franchise coach.

How they fared last season
Two draws and a loss in their first three matches summed up what would become the Lions' biggest problem over the season: an inability to bowl teams out. They were able to take 20 wickets against the Warriors, who they beat to earn their first win of the season. A crushing innings-and-83-run loss to the Cobras was followed by two victories, over the Titans and Warriors but their season petered out with three draws.

Run-scoring came in droves for the Lions. Alviro Petersen wrested back his international spot with 816 runs from seven matches at an average of 62.76 and was the competition's top run-scorer. Neil McKenzie was second highest with 790 runs, and Steven Cook contributed 690 to give the Lions a healthy top order. Pumi Matshikwe's 30 wickets got him picked for the South Africa A side and Eddie Leie's 24 scalps saw him emerge as an exciting legspin prospect.

Who to watch
Quinton de Kock is being talked up as the next big wicketkeeper-batsman and will be closely monitored. Chris Morris was part of the South African squad who competed in an unofficial T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe and Matshikwe has shown promising signs in the fast-bowling department.


Captain Colin Ingram
Coach Piet Botha

What's changed
The loss of Lonwabo Tsotsobe is the biggest concern for the Warriors who have a talented but underperforming squad. Since Russell Domingo was poached for the national assistant coach job, they have struggled to reach the highs of the 2009-10 season when they won two trophies. Not much has changed in their personnel, but they will need a change in attitude if they hope for success this season.

How they fared last season
With seven losses from ten matches, it's a wonder the Warriors did not finish last on the table. They managed over 350 runs just once in the competition and conceded over 350 six times. With three defeats from their first three matches, reaching parity was always going to be tricky for them but they almost stood up to the challenge. Wins over the Dolphins and Cobras kept them above water. But three defeats, a weather-affected abandoned match and a fourth loss ended their season dismally.

It was not all woe though - Simon Harmer's 44 wickets made him the tournament's highest wicket-taker. Jon-Jon Smuts was their leading run-scorer with 742 runs at an average of 43.64.

Who to watch
The Smuts brothers, Kelly and Jon-Jon, are entertaining and resourceful cricketers who could attract the attention of people in important places. Makhaya Ntini is still playing, despite international retirement, and Ashwell Prince is the senior statesman who has not given up on playing for South Africa just yet.


Captain Daryn Smit
Coach Lance Klusener

What's changed
Another franchise who have had a complete change at the top, the Dolphins are another new-look team. After Graham Ford's departure to Sri Lanka mid-season, Klusener was appointed interim coach and the players enjoyed playing under him so much that he was given the job full time. Smit is a new, enthusiastic leader, and they have acquired Tsotsobe and Jonathan Vandiar, but lost Tahir to the Lions.

How they fared last season
A forgettable season for the Dolphins, who won one match in 2012, beating the Warriors by 227 runs.

Divan van Wyk scored 669 runs at just under 40 and Imraan Khan contributed 652 runs. Kyle Abbott and Robbie Frylinck both took 33 wickets to lead the bowler's rankings.

Who to watch
Khaya Zondo and Mthokozisi Shezi have made waves in the batting and bowling departments respectively, while Vaughn van Jaarsveld is always on the national selectors' minds.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent