It's the battle of the underdogs in the final of the MTN40. The Warriors and the Dolphins ended the league stage of the tournament with only three wins in 10 matches compared to the seven wins each for the Titans and Cobras. There was also a significant points difference between the top two and Nos. 3 and 4 on the log, to make the semi-finals appear nothing more than a easy passage for the top two to the final. The Titans had 34 points, the Cobras 33, the Warriors 20 and the Dolphins a lowly 14.
However, as Imraan Khan, captain of the Dolphins said, "You only have to finish fourth on the log to have a chance in this competition." While Pierre Joubert and Justin Kemp may be in favour of a league format in the tournament, Khan and his Warriors counterpart, Davey Jacobs, are thrilled to have snuck into the final. "The pool games are just a way to make it into the last four," said Jacobs. "Once it reaches the semi-final stage, then it gets really interesting."
Matters certainly got more interesting for the Eastern Cape franchise. They had all their national players available to them for the semi-final. Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince and Wayne Parnell joined Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Johan Botha, Nicky Boje, Makhaya Ntini in an impressive Warriors line-up. The team also has the highest run-scorer in the competition, Colin Ingram, and the highest wicket-taker, Rusty Theron.
Ingram has scored five half-centuries in the competition at an average of 64.88. He also has one century to his name. Theron has taken 19 wickets, while Botha, Tstotsobe and Ntini all have 16 scalps. Compare them to the highest wicket-taker for the Dolphins - Andrew Hall with 10 wickets at 41.00 - and their top run-getter Ahmed Amla, who lies 10th on the list, and it seems the Warriors have little to worry about.
'We're not scared," said Khan, as a nervous laugh escaped his lips. "We're excited to play because it gives us the opportunity to test our skills against some of the best players South Africa has produced." The Dolphins side contains just one current national player, Hashim Amla, and Khan identified him along with Hall and Loots Bosman as their key players. Khan also believed Dale Benkenstein was crucial to the Dolphins' success because of the veteran player's "vast experience." He added his team had improved in the "bowling and fielding" categories since the opening stages of the competition
"Even their keeper can bowl," joked Jacobs, referring to Daryn Smit who doubles as a leg break bowler for the Dolphins. Jacobs expects the Buffalo Park wicket to be a "bit slow," but he is hoping his fast bowlers will be able to make use of conditions, particularly Ntini, who returned to the franchise after being dropped from the Test squad. "There is no one in the world I know who loves cricket as much as Ntini," said Jacobs. "He is a real joy to have in the team."
The Warriors have not won a trophy since start of the franchise system in 2004-05, although they have reached three of the last four finals, including this one. They'll be wary of the chokers tag, especially considering the number of national players in their team and of a Dolphins side that is also short on silverware. "We haven't won a trophy on our own since the franchise system started," said Khan. "We shared the SuperSport Series with the Eagles and then Titans in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 season, so there's a big incentive for us too."
Both captains say the new format of the limited-overs competition is sustainable and they enjoyed the addition of another Powerplay. "At first we just thought it just be like a blown-up Pro20, but it's really a good strategic test for a captain," said Jacobs. "You have to think on your feet and very instinctively as soon as the batting side decides to take the Powerplay. Your bowlers have to be ready at any time to bowl when needed during these stages of the match."