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Teams to come out with bats blazing

Life as a cricket ball becomes a fairly hazardous existence over the next month. Consider the following: seam splitting, boundary bashing and full throttle action.

Life as a cricket ball becomes a fairly hazardous existence over the next month. Consider the following: seam splitting, boundary bashing and full throttle action.

The above are those cute marketing ploys being employed to draw folks once more to cricket for the 21st century in the form of the Standard Bank Pro20 series, where bats blaze and balls are pummelled. Hip, happening and finished before you can say "howzat", Pro20 made a colourful debut last season, and makes a return to Johannesburg tomorrow evening when the Highveld Lions take on Western Province/Boland at the Wanderers.

Enough has been said and written about whether it goes against the spirit of the gentleman's game. Sure, its fast-food, pop, razzmatazz style won't appeal to everyone, but as a means of drawing new audiences - specifically younger viewers - to the game, then judging by what was seen last season, one would have to say it is a great success.

So, Pro20 circa two, which somewhat strangely, but officially kicked off last night in Bloemfontein returns this season and many are hoping it will prove to be as great a success as was the case at the end of last summer.

One hurdle stands in its way, though. The presence of the national players, last April, coupled with the competition being used as a tool to introduce the six new professional franchises, certainly helped to boost its popularity.

So, of course, did its novelty value.

This time the national players are away, and in their absence there really are only a handful of provincial cricketers who would genuinely draw a crowd.

The Northerns Titans have two of them in the form of Justin Kemp and Albie Morkel.

The one, Kemp, is virtually guaranteed his place in the one-day side for the five match limited overs series against the West Indies next month. Morkel, on the other hand, can do with a good Pro20 to boost his chances of being included in that squad, which will be finalised towards the end of the competition.

The Goodyear Eagles, having now shed their underdog tag, will probably start as the competition's favourites alongside the Titans. Just two national call-ups mean their side won't be massively upset and they'll retain the core of the unit that led them to the title last year.

Loots Bosman, last season's leading run-scorer, and Thandi Tshabalala, the leading wicket-taker, are both back and together with the talents of Morné van Wyk and Johan van der Wath, they make the Eagles into a formidable unit.

The Lions, Standard Bank Cup semifinalists, start this season's shortnened limited overs competition without two experienced campaigners in the form of HD Ackerman, who is off to captain English county Leicestershire, and Derek Crookes who retired this week.

They nevertheless still contain several talented and smart batsmen, notably Adam Bacher and skipper Neil McKenzie. What they lack, though, and what is so crucial in this extremely abbreviated form of the game, is an explosive hitter in the form of a Klusener, Morkel, Van der Wath or Kemp and that may ultimately prove costly. Salve helices pariah inure paleoserology evangelistic?
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