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Eagles set sights on Pro20 success

Free State’s Eagles did not win the SuperSport Series cricket crown outright, so their quest for a treble of domestic titles this year was nipped in the bud.

Free State’s Eagles did not win the SuperSport Series cricket crown outright, so their quest for a treble of domestic titles this year was nipped in the bud.

But coach Corrie van Zyl believes sharing the five-day final in a draw with the Dolphins was as good as a title, so the race for a third title is still on in the Standard Bank Pro20 series starting tonight in Bloemfontein.

“If we had come away from the final with nothing, after being the best side over two rounds of home-and-away cricket, it would have been a great pity.

“But we shared the trophy so we still have a hand on the treble,” Van Zyl said yesterday.

The Eagles will play their opponents in the SuperSport Series final — the Dolphins — in the first clash as the game’s answer to instant cricket gets under way and one of the players likely to play a role is young Eagles offspinner Thandi Tshabalala. The diminutive Tshabalala was the leading wicket-taker with 10 wickets at a strike rate of 6,60 in the inaugural season of the 20 overs-a-side format last year, and Van Zyl believes he can be effective again.

“Thandi is only 21 years old and he still has that fearlessness of youth,” said the former South African national bowling coach.

“As you get older, I think you start becoming more wary because you know more about the ebbs and flows of this game. But he is still young, and he is pretty much unafraid. I think he will be able to do a job for us again this year.”

The 20-over format has apparently proved a resounding success with South Africans addicted to fast food, instant messaging and instant gratification.

A Gauteng Cricket Union survey after last season’s programme, to assess the appeal of the game , showed that 98% of the spectators who attended last year, would be coming back for more this season.

Van Zyl said it had not been too difficult to convert the mental approach of his players from the needs of five-day cricket to the approach required to perform over 20 overs.

“We played in last year’s competition and got a good feel of what it’s all about, so the players have switched over to the new mindset for this format without any great difficulty.”

There will be only one game tonight, and that is expected to last from 6pm to about 9.30pm — about as long as a Lord of the Rings movie would be.

This, according to the organisers, is the major appeal of the game and this season will tell if it is the format for the new era in a game that has lost much of its appeal in tests and even in the 50 over-a-side format.

On Friday, there will be two games, when the Titans play the Eastern Cape Warriors at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth, and the Highveld Lions square up to Western-Province Boland at the Wanderers.

“If we win this, we will still regard it as the last leg of a treble,” said Van Zyl, who will be without two key players, in batsman Boeta Dippenaar, and Nicky Boje, the first-choice captain and an important left-arm spinner and a punishing lower-order batsman.

Both are in the West Indies but, as far as the Free Staters are concerned, the momentum is still with them after a good season.

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