April 25, 2006. Russell Domingo, the Warriors' coach, still remembers that Wednesday night from hell. His Warriors had been clawed by the Eagles: they were shot out for 65 in 13.4 overs and lost a Pro20 game by 110 runs. Anger was in the air. Nearly 8000 disillusioned people vented their disappointment at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth.
"It was a watershed evening for us, the crowd's mood was fully justified," Domingo says now. The Warriors hadn't won a thing since Kepler Wessels led them to a cup in the 1991-92 season. The fans had had enough. At 7.00 am the next morning, Domingo was woken from a sombre and restless night of discontent by a phone call. It was the lady from the local radio station wanting to know why cricket had plunged so low in the region. The angry callers wanted answers. Domingo remembers that show leaving him disturbed and thirsting for revival. Something had to be done.
The story now moves to 2007. In the interim, the team had moved from being losers to being slightly competitive. Sponsors had come in and with them the infrastructure: a full-time trainer and a video analyst arrived. The trophy cabinet was still empty. The blinds, it seemed, were firmly down.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Davy Jacobs, playing his third season for Eagles, had woken up to a dark morning. He couldn't move his wrists. Something was wrong. After an operation, he knew he couldn't play cricket that season. Jacobs planned his next move. If he could move to Warriors for the next season, he could start keeping as well as open, and maybe one day a leadership role would open for him. Maybe. He knew Domingo well from his days at the academy and more importantly, they liked each other. And so Jacobs joined the Warriors.
Jacobs thought the captaincy would come to him in 2010. He had decided to lie low and wait. It came to him in 2008, almost by accident. Domingo didn't like the then captain Zander de Bruyn's decision to play county cricket and join the team only at the start of the season. Domingo went to meet Jacobs and offered him the captaincy: "He was like a kid being gifted a bicycle on his birthday. He said this was his destiny. He said he had plans to make us a competition-winning team. You could feel his energy. He was bursting almost."
Jacobs knew what the problem was and the solution to it. The culture of losing had to be changed. "Whenever the game got tight, the boys would step back, choke," he said. "I knew I had to free them of that burden. I play my game freely; I like to dominate. I wanted the boys to play the same way. They had to believe in themselves, play as a group and I promised them there won't be any small interferences; we cut that out. Either you are in or you are out."
Jacobs knew some players, those who didn't fit into what he wanted, would leave. He didn't point anyone out and ask them to leave. "If you are moving along positively and are moving with focus and energy in the same direction, you will put pressure on people to be at their best and stay at that level. You will naturally see certain people fall away and those are normally the guys you anyway want out ."
The time was now ripe for the youngsters to grow up. They had no baggage from the loss, they didn't have the bad habits of some of the old timers. Jacobs himself was very young. A young Colin Ingram remembers Jacobs urging them to become more responsible. "You guys hit the ball the same way as the seniors, why don't you start thinking and acting like seniors? Why don't you make the plays at crucial moments? You guys are very talented; I will back you completely. If you want to go for a six at whatever juncture, go for it."
Jacobs remembers the tipping point when things started to change during the 2008-09 season. "Cape Cobras hit 207 runs in a Pro20 game and we nearly chased it down; we made 203. We were sitting in the change room and laughing. Two 200s, that doesn't happen often. We said that's how we want to play from now on. Fearless cricket." That season was over but the youngsters had a found a path to walk on; they were going to stumble soon though.
The 2009-10 season started well but then Warriors lost four games in a row. This was no way to create a legacy. Jacobs called his troops into the change room after the fourth defeat and gave a stirring speech. He was angry at the start, kicked a kit bag or two and spoke his mind. In the end, he said, "We can sit here, feel sorry for ourselves and let it slide like every other Warriors team for the last 18 years. We come close and get stuck. We get too scared to go on and we are telling the other team 'We are sorry for being here and you guys can walk over us again'.
"You guys can either continue to do that or say 'Stuff that, we have had enough of that'. We have four games left. If it comes off great, if it doesn't, unlucky, but I can promise you all one thing; its going to be spectacular show."
It was. They went on to win the Pro40 tournament. A couple of weeks later they won their second trophy - the Pro 20. It rained on the night of the first triumph. They had just won their first final in 18 years, and there was a torrential downpour.
"We refused to go into the change room; we just stood there in the rain," Jacobs recalls. "There was a massive sense of achievement and it was also a relief. Because whenever this team has come close in the past, the media have said they have never won anything; they don't know how to win and they choke. I have always told them that you can't say it was us who haven't won anything. Our group was involved only recently. Wayne Parnell was three when Warriors last won anything. This group hasn't won anything in six months after I took over, not 18 years.
"A media guy called me a few days after the win. I asked him how long was it since we won and he said '18 years'. 'No Mate,' I said, 'it's just been a week' and we laughed." The next day Domingo got a call from the radio station. There were no angry callers. The radio crackled with laughter that day.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo