Despite losing their head coach shortly before the season started, seeing several players called up to the Proteas and having to endure some key injuries, the Lions cricket team are desperately hungry to add to the trophies they won in 2018-19 according to new coach Wandile Gwavu.
And were it not for the Covid-19 pandemic bringing the 2019-20 campaign to a premature end, they could well have claimed both domestic franchise trophies on offer.
The Lions finished second on the Momentum One-Day Cup log and were due to host a semifinal against the Warriors when Cricket South Africa pulled the plug on the season.
They were also leading the Four-Day Franchise Series by 8.46 points with two rounds to play.
Much of the credit must go to 31-year-old Gwavu who took over at short notice when Enoch Nkwe, who led the Lions to the Four-Day Series and T20 Challenge titles last season, was appointed Proteas coach for the tour to India.
“The guys really wanted to succeed and build on what we achieved last season. It was always going to be a worry losing five to seven players to the Proteas at times, especially the experienced guys, and we had a relatively young management team. But I thought we handled it very well and as a young coach I am most definitely satisfied with the season.
“It was a great opportunity for Central Gauteng and North-West youngsters to step up and they won a lot of matches for us so you have to give them credit.
“Senior players like Malusi Siboto, Aaron Phangiso and Nicky van den Bergh took a lot of responsibility, they have not always been first-choice players but they were called to lead. We prided ourselves on being one of the hardest working, smartest sides,” Gwavu told The Citizen.
While 23-year-old Ryan Rickelton was the third-highest run scorer in the Momentum One-Day Cup and Phangiso claimed the second-most wickets, there were few other startling individual tallies in either the 50-over or four-day competitions.
But the Lions certainly had enough match winners, winning six of their limited-overs games and four out of eight four-day games, twice as many as their closest challengers, the Titans.
“It was a real team effort. At one stage the players were looking at the stats and started to panic, saying someone has to stand up and get to the top of the averages, but I told them our figures would get the opposition worried because it showed that everyone was a match-winner.
“I knew that at crunch time everyone would stand up and the few seniors we had were vital.
“We expected tough times because no team goes through a season without them, but there’s always the opportunity to come back and we did that in both the four-day and one-day competitions.
“We had our dips but we showed a lot of character in getting through them. We were the most consistent four-day side even though we lost two games in a row, we played really good cricket over the eight games and had good impetus,” Gwavu said.