Titans in for a tricky start to title defence

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The Nashua Titans begin the defence of their Standard Bank Pro20 title with a potentially tricky match against the Chevrolet Warriors in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.

The Titans have swept all before them in limited-overs cricket recently, including a commanding victory over the powerful Diamond Eagles in their last outing, the MTN Domestic Championship final. But the Warriors have often been the dark horses of Pro20 cricket and Port Elizabeth is a difficult venue to visit.

"Standard Bank Pro20 has its own skill set, but good limited-overs teams will play consistently good twenty20. Last year it took a while for us to hit our straps, we snuck into the semifinals in fourth place, and I want us to become a more rounded short-form unit, to see the guys understanding their roles and just doing them better," Pybus said.

The Titans won last year's Standard Bank Pro20 series, despite winning just three of their six round-robin matches and finishing fourth on the log. They beat the Cape Cobras by six runs in their semifinal at Newlands and then beat the Dolphins by 18 runs in the final at Kingsmead.

The Warriors finished last in 2008, winning just one of their six matches, and start their 2009 campaign with national call-ups and injuries having dented their prospects.

"Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell and Johan Botha are all away in Australia, while Sinethemba Mjekula is injured, so we are missing a few key players. It will be a big learning curve for our young bowlers, but our batting is our strength and I think we have a good chance in the competition," Warriors coach Russell Domingo said.

He will be relying on proven limited-overs performers like Arno and Davey Jacobs, Justin Kreusch and Robin Peterson with the bat, while Juan Theron and Peterson will be called on to lead an inexperienced attack.

Having recovered from their hiccup during the round-robin stage of last year's Pro20, the Titans overthrew their poor early form thanks to focusing on their mental preparation and injecting more vooma into their top-order batting.

"The important thing is we prepare well and we do our homework. And I'd like to send a compliment the skipper's way, because the team has been very well led. Pierre Joubert has done an outstanding job, the players all feel comfortable and know their roles. Everyone enjoys playing and winning for the Titans at the moment," Pybus said.

Paul Harris, who produced a top-class spell of spin bowling to destroy the Eagles in the 45-over final, has been told to have a rest by Cricket South Africa, but the likes of Roelof van der Merwe and Imran Tahir certainly won't let the Warriors batsmen off the hook either.

Batsman Martin van Jaarsveld is also back in the coop and his experienced presence lifts the bar for the Titans, who also boast the talents of Gulam Bodi, Faf du Plessis and Van der Merwe when it comes to punishing bowling attacks.

And, of course, the prospect of qualifying for the lucrative IPL Champions League in India is the biggest bone of all for all the teams competing in the Standard Bank Pro20.
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