Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg
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There's a funny feeling that hits the southern tip of Africa around the end of March every year. It's when the sunshine is being filtered through a watery lens and the air thins out like a ragged, old blanket. To some, it's merely the onset of autumn, to others it's the end of the cricket season, and to the Cape Cobras, it's the end of the season in which they won the SuperSport series but failed to renew their tickets to the Champions League.
The Cobras won 60% of their first-class games, with two of their most comprehensive results coming in the final two weeks of the season. They beat the Dolphins by 10 wickets in the penultimate match, after racking up 477 for 8 in the first innings. Centuries by Andrew Puttick (180) and Stiaan van Zyl (157) set up the win, and Vernon Philander took six wickets in the match as the Dolphins were bowled out for 276 and 225.
The following week, the Cobras tore through the Warriors to win by an innings and 117 runs and cement their place at the top of the table. Philander was again among the wickets, claiming 5 for 40 as the Warriors were bundled out for 110 in the first innings. Stiann van Zyl smashed an unbeaten 167, the mainstay of the Cobras' 369. Robin Peterson's five-wicket haul helped the Cobras bowl the Warriors out a second time, for 142.
The Cobras took the main prize through some fine individual performances over the course of the season. Philander led the bowling with 45 wickets at 14.73, while Peterson was the most successful spinner in the competition, finishing with 30 wickets at an average of 23.50, which put him fifth on the overall standings. Van Zyl was their best batsman, scoring 696 runs at 58, with two centuries. It was a satisfying season for the men from the Cape from a four-day point of view, but not so in the limited-overs formats. They lost to the Warriors in the MTN40 semi-final and in the last four of the Pro20.
The same cannot be said for the Eagles, who also featured in last year's Champions League. They had a disappointing season all round. They failed to make the semi-finals of the Pro20 or the MTN40 and finished fourth in the SuperSport Series. The Bloemfontein-based franchise was under a new coach, Sarel Cilliers, and this season could well have been their teething period.
However, they did have two soaring stars to be proud of: Rilee Rossouw topped the first-class batting stakes with 1189 runs at 66.05, including the fastest triple-century by a South African with 319 off 291 balls against the Titans. However, the innings came in defeat as the Eagles squeezed home by two wickets on the final day. His team-mate Dean Elgar also scored 1060 runs at a marginally higher average of 66.25 and slotted in neatly at number two on the table.
Number three on the first-class averages belonged to Stephen Cook, the Lions batsman who broke the South African first-class record with 390 against the Warriors. For his franchise, the season was a welcome change from their usual position at the bottom of the table. They finished third in the SuperSport Series, despite only wining two matches. In fact, they lost double the number of matches they won but racked up 100.44 points, to sit in the middle of the pack. The MTN40 was forgettable for them as they finished last, but they surprised everyone when they reached the final of the Pro20.
The internal problems of the one of the Lions' mother unions, the Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB) have been more in the spotlight than their cricket, and they will hope that the off season will be used to sort out those issues. One of them is the legitimacy of the board and unless this is clarified it could have an impact on the hosting of Champions League matches later in the year by the GCB should South Africa be confirmed as the venue.
The Titians, like the Eagles, were under a new coach in Chris van Noordwyk and failed to replicate the success of previous seasons. They were the defending champions of the SuperSport Series, where they ended second, and the MTN40, where they were knocked out by the Dolphins.
That bit of success is really all the Dolphins had to smile about this season. Also under new management, that of ex-national coach Graham Ford, they finished last in both the SuperSport Series and the Pro20. They underwent a mid-season overhaul, in which the contracts of five senior players including HD Ackerman, Johann Louw and Andrew Hall were terminated with immediate effect. The franchise said it hoped to increase development substantially and produce a younger, more vibrant side for next season. They will be bolstered by the inclusion of Imran Tahir, who left the Titans to move to Durban.
All five of the above franchises will have rebuilding to do in the winter months, with a mixed bag of results not separating any of them from the others in terms of dominance. Even the Cobras, who were the most consistent of the five, performance wise, slipped a rung or two on the ladder of cricketing supremacy in the franchise system.
There's one franchise that the winter chill may not feel so severe to and that's the Warriors. They picked up their first and second trophies since the franchise system started. The Eastern Cape side established themselves as the best limited-overs unit in the country as they won both the 40-over and 20-over competitions.
Colin Ingram was the top scorer in both, scoring 600 runs in the MTN40 and 283 in the Pro20 and Rusty Theron became feared for his death bowling abilities which were enough to earn him South Africa and IPL call-ups. The Warriors were not so successful in the SuperSport Series and finished second last, making it clear that they have work to do on the longer version of the game.