Like a flyhalf who has a potentially matchwinning kick at goal in the Rugby World Cup final, T20 cricket demands nerveless, precise finishers and their presence in the various Mzansi Super League squads that were decided at the draft in Soweto on Tuesday will be crucial to the outcome of the second edition of the tournament.
Gary Kirsten, the new Durban Heat coach and the man who steered India to their 2011 World Cup crown under immense pressure, was certainly stressing the importance of the cerebral after the draft.
“Great resilience and smartness is what T20 cricket demands, it’s not just about talent, you need clever players. We have a guy like Ravi Bopara, who has a lot of experience and bats six and closes out games, but someone like Farhaan Behardien [who was snapped up by Eric Simons for the NMB Giants] was in our plans too, that’s the kind of guy you want,” Kirsten said.
So who are the finishers for the various MSL franchises?
Batsmen – Ravi Bopara, David Miller, Dane Vilas, Andile Phehlukwayo
Bowlers – Kyle Abbott, Andile Phehlukwayo, Malusi Siboto
Wicketkeeper/batsman Vilas was surprisingly not retained by the Jozi Stars, who he led to the inaugural title last year. He has been based in Durban since the 2017/18 season and has been in good form over the winter for Lancashire. All local players know not to underestimate him.
South African fans may have a low estimation of English all-rounder Bopara, but it is not shared by Kirsten: “He’s had an unbelievable T20 Blast batting at six and closing out games and he offers a lot with the ball, he’ll do really well on the slower Kingsmead pitch, plus he has a lot of experience.”
Left-handers Miller and Phehlukwayo have a very good history when it comes to finishing games together with the bat at Kingsmead.
Sub-tropical Durban has a pitch that is often reminiscent of a sago pudding, and that will also perfectly suit the tremendous variety of death bowling that Phehlukwayo brings, as well as the medium-pace of Siboto.
Abbott is also a very good death bowler, possessing a potent yorker as well as the ability to hit the deck hard.
Batsmen – AB de Villiers, Heinrich Klaasen, Pite van Biljon
Bowlers – Lungi Ngidi, Morne Morkel, Roelof van der Merwe
De Villiers, who is seemingly able to play any stroke to any part of the field, Klaasen, who can clear the boundary once set, and Van Biljon, an excellent manager of the chase, bring diverse skills to the Spartans middle-order, meaning the Tshwane team should have finishers for every situation.
Coach Mark Boucher is hoping for an old school SuperSport Park pitch with plenty of pace and bounce, and that will suit Morkel and Ngidi to a T, although neither of them must neglect the yorkers they are both so good at bowling. Van der Merwe is one of those special spinners who does not shirk bowling at the death, he is the type of cricketer who dives right into every tough situation.
Nelson Mandela Bay Giants
Batsmen – Farhaan Behardien, Marco Marais, Chris Morris
Bowlers – Beuran Hendricks, Nandre Burger, Imran Tahir
With Behardien so adept at managing the run-chase – he can play both the manipulating game and clear the boundary – big-hitters Marais and Morris will be freed up to really have a dip at the bowling. That makes the Giants very dangerous.
Two left-arm pacemen in Hendricks and Burger is nothing to laugh at, plus champion leg-spinner Tahir is the real joker in the pack, able to bowl up front, in the middle and even at the death.
Batsmen – JP Duminy, Dwaine Pretorius, Mangaliso Mosehle
Bowlers – Ferisco Adams, Isuru Udana, Hardus Viljoen
The vastly experienced Duminy will be given the role of managing the back end of the innings, something he is very familiar with. Pretorius and Mosehle have both shown in the past that they wield mighty logs of wood when it comes to hitting boundaries.
Sri Lankan left-arm quick Udana is definitely an option in the death overs on a Paarl pitch that usually features an absence of pace and bounce, while Adams brings an array of varieties and no pace on the ball. Viljoen has blinding pace in anyone’s language, but he will need to be able to bowl his yorker consistently.
Cape Town Blitz
Batsmen – Mohammad Nawaz, George Linde, Vernon Philander
Bowlers – Wahab Riaz, Sisanda Magala
Pakistani all-rounder Nawaz played a series of face-saving innings for the Blitz last season, and coach Ashwell Prince admitted the rest of the middle-order needed to provide better support. There are high hopes that Linde and Philander, who has been acquired from the Durban Heat, can make the difference this year.
The Blitz have ditched Dawid Malan as their overseas marquee player after his disappointing return of just 60 runs in seven innings with the bat, choosing Pakistan fast bowler Wahab instead. Both he and Magala are fiery bowlers who are deceptively quick and specialists at the death. Magala was the best pace bowler for the NMB Giants last season.
Batsmen – Rassie van der Dussen, Dan Christian
Bowlers – Kagiso Rabada, Nono Pongolo
The Proteas best batsman at the World Cup and the leading run-scorer in last year’s MSL, Van der Dussen is the ideal finisher, able to push the ball around and also clear the boundary. Australian all-rounder Christian was one of the major reasons the Jozi Stars won the title last year, having the temperament and range of strokes to succeed in the chase.
Rabada has arguably the most weapons at his disposal out of all the fast bowlers in the tournament and the Jozi Stars will back him to produce the goods at the death more often than not. But it was medium-pacer Pongolo who often showed the most nerve, having the priceless ability to just get the job done, often taking wickets along the way.