One Day Cup
Fitting final at the Bullring
Dane Vilas and Zander de Bruyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Several intriguing sub-plots mark Friday’s final of the domestic One-Day Cup between the Highveld Lions and Cape Cobras at the Wanderers (15:00 start).
Perhaps the first worth noting is that for veteran followers of the domestic game, the encounter will rekindle some memories of the trophy-gobbling golden age of the Transvaal “Mean Machine”, who would often slug out major finals with a Western Province team at least reasonably consistently the “best of the rest”.
In the more modern, post-unity era, these since-renamed franchises have seldom locked horns with each other with titles on the line, primarily because the Lions have tended to be among the strugglers across the various competitions.
With the provincial landscape so different now, there is little point in comparing eras although it is certainly true to say that the Lions have generally lived in the shadow subsequently of once all-conquering, juggernaut Transvaal teams led by first David Dyer and then Clive Rice
In terms of the major limited-overs competition, which has changed names many times in the decades since, undoubtedly the most prolific period for Transvaal under SACU auspices - when their ranks so often included names like Rice, Jimmy Cook, Graeme Pollock, Alvin Kallicharran, Sylvester Clarke and Alan Kourie - came between 1978/79 and 1985/86, when they won the Datsun Shield (later Nissan Shield) a remarkable seven times out of a possible eight.
In those times their big southern rivals, WP, frequently left the Bullring empty-handed after the final, although Province did nip in for the title in 1981/82 when Transvaal were rare absentees and Natal instead visited the Wanderers for a neutrally-staged showpiece - Province won an ill-tempered affair by two runs after some controversial, arguably “against the spirit” run-out episodes in the match.
These days the Cobras have a decisive edge over their Johannesburg rivals for regularly of domestic silverware, although the Lions - boasting a fine mix of experience and youthful prospects - do appear to be awakening at a rate of knots from many years of relative slumber.
In a reflection of how transformation initiatives in recent years are beginning to bear significant fruit, two relatively young coaches from previously disadvantaged backgrounds - Geoffrey Toyana of the Lions and the Cobras’ Paul “Gogga” Adams - will be pulling the respective off-field strings for this final.
Soweto-born Toyana, at 38, is three years senior to his opposite number in age terms, but both men are in their first season as head franchise coaches and also have in common the fact that each stopped playing first-class cricket in early 2008.
The Lions have been routinely competitive in one-day cricket broadly this summer, considering that they surprised some pundits by making it to the final of the lucrative, multi-national Champions League Twenty20 tournament at the same venue that hosts Friday’s tussle.
They topped the round-robin table in the One-Day Cup, with the Cobras just one point behind them in second and rightly, perhaps, qualifying for the final after a Newlands playoff against the Titans, who had ended the ordinary programme as many as eight points adrift in third.
Also interesting to note is that a form gauge is tricky: the Lions won the Newlands fixture in “league” play and then the Cobras earned revenge upcountry by prevailing at Potchefstroom on November 25.
They often say that limited-overs fixtures are all about the batsmen, and the final will see two of the three highest scorers in the competition thus far go head to head.
The Cobras’ seriously back-in-form big banger Richard Levi
is the near-runaway leading scorer with 573 runs at an average of 63.66 and a scorching strike rate of 107; he enters the final in the knowledge that only two knocks back he recorded his personal best List A innings of 166 against the Titans at Paarl.
Levi has not been dismissed for a score below 30 in any of his last eight matches in the competition, with several knocks greatly eclipsing that figure.
Meanwhile the Lions’ experienced Stephen Cook
, 30, may be a little more renowned for his first-class accomplishments, but he has had a stellar One-Day Cup himself, registering 427 runs at 61.00 and a strike rate of 91 - he is presently the third-highest scorer in the competition, with the now finished Henry Davids of the Titans in second spot with 450 at 40.90.
It is appropriate in many ways that Cook and evergreen Neil McKenzie
will almost certainly represent the Lions in the showpiece, as both are sons of Mean Machine luminaries, Jimmy Cook and Kevin McKenzie ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing