Bumpy road for Momentum One-Day Cup playoff

FILE PICTURE: Temba Bavuma of the Bizhub Highveld Lions during the Ram Slam T20 Challenge match between Sunfoil Dolphins and bizhub Highveld Lions at Chevrolet Park on November 30, 2014 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Louis Botha/Gallo Images)

It’s going to be a bumpy road to the Momentum One-Day Cup playoff for the Dolphins, Lions and Titans, who are all in action on Friday night as the competition enters a critical stage with World Cup and SA A call-ups playing havoc with team selection for the franchises.

The Nashua Cape Cobras must rate themselves as being virtually assured of automatic entry to the final as they enjoy a nine-point lead at the top of the log with three matches to play.

Last season’s joint champions have won five of their seven matches, including an excellent five-wicket win over the bizhub Highveld Lions last week at the Wanderers, when they were missing a large proportion of their first-choice side.

But the fortunes of the three teams below them in the standings – the Dolphins (16pts), Lions (15pts) and Titans (13pts) – have fluctuated wildly and one of the franchises needs to get a solid run going in order to cement themselves into second place.

Lions coach Geoff Toyana will be hoping that it will be his team, that has been boosted by the return of several key players, that will take control of their destiny with victory over the Chevrolet Knights at the Wanderers on Friday, while Titans coach Rob Walter will be aiming for similar success as they take on the Cobras in Cape Town in a match-up that is a repeat of last season’s washed out final.

The fact that SA A play their next limited-overs match against the England Lions in Potchefstroom on Saturday means that Toyana is able to use star bowlers like Eddie Leie and Kagiso Rabada, while Hardus Viljoen is also fit again to further boost their attack and experienced campaigners Alviro Petersen and Thami Tsolekile also come back into the line-up.

Toyana said on Thursday that his team’s chances of possibly moving into second place will all come down to their ability to focus on their own skills and getting the execution of those right.

The Knights come to Johannesburg with their hopes of making the playoff all but gone after just one win in seven games, and they will be without key batsman Reeza Hendricks.

Toyana is not going to write them off, however.

“The Knights are a very dangerous team and very competitive in 50-over cricket. They can still get to 20 points so it’s a crunch game for us. If we don’t win then we’re not going to go far in this competition, so it’s important we do well and keep our destiny in our own hands,” Toyana toldThe Citizen on Thursday.

The Unlimited Titans travel to Newlands fresh from a morale-boosting win over the Knights in Kimberley, but are going to have to find replacements for key players like Marchant de Lange, Theunis de Bruyn and David Wiese, who are all with the SA A side.

Albie Morkel is set to make a return to domestic action and the Titans are going to have to decide, depending on pitch conditions, whether to play a second frontline spinner in Tabraiz Shamsi or another seamer in Ethy Mbhalati, while Graeme van Buuren (slow left-arm) and Grant Thomson (medium-pace) are both batting all-rounders competing for a single place.

The Titans will be hoping for more of the same from openers Jacques Rudolph and Henry Davids, who put on 77 for the first wicket in 14.3 overs against the Knights.

The Cobras have more players unavailable than most, but they have been able to make do thanks to the excellent depth they enjoy down in the Western Cape.

Openers Richard Levi and Andrew Puttick have been making bucket-loads of runs, while this season has also seen Sybrand Engelbrecht make strong progress.

Justin Kemp, the old warhorse, can still cart the best of bowlers around the park, while Robin Peterson is another experienced, dangerous campaigner for the Titans to be wary of.

The Sunfoil Dolphins travel to Port Elizabeth to face a Chevrolet Warriors side that has been boosted by the return of Rusty Theron from a knee injury and the availability of Simon Harmer.

Both sides have been in danger of having their 50-over skills decomposing due to lack of use as neither of them have played in the Momentum One-Day Cup since the end of October, but while the Dolphins still have the title to aim for, the Warriors can realistically only build for next season having won just one of their five games thus far.

Against the strengthened Warriors attack, the Dolphins will be relying heavily on three hugely experienced batsmen – Morne van Wyk, Daryn Smit, who had his 31st birthday on Wednesday, and Vaughn van Jaarsveld, who turns 30 on Monday.

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