Wanderers geared up for thrilling final
Another thrilling Standard Bank Pro20 Series comes down to the final at the Wanderers on Friday night with the Highveld Lions happy to proclaim themselves as slight favourites.
The Lions and the Cobras finished first and second on the log, with the Gautengers winning four of their five round-robin games and the Capetonians three.
But the Lions were the more impressive semifinal winners, beating the Titans by 45 runs, while the Cobras only saw off a fierce challenge from the Eastern Cape Warriors off the final ball.
All of which has led Cobras coach Shukri Conrad to declare his team as the underdogs.
"We're up against the form team in the competition, but hopefully we can upset the applecart at the Wanderers in what should be a helluva occasion," Conrad said.
"Our worst performance probably came last week in the semi against the Warriors, but we managed to get over the line. When you play poorly but still manage to win it does give you a lot of confidence."
Lions coach Gordon Parsons is happy to take on the role of favourites, even though his team had a mountain to climb before beating the Cobras off the last ball in their round-robin match at the Wanderers.
"Without being arrogant, my gut feel is that on paper we have the better team. But you can't allow for how players will react on the big occasion with 30 000 screaming spectators, hopefully most of them shouting for the Highveld Lions.
"We didn't play particularly well in our previous match against the Cobras. We went for 60 runs in the first six overs and then we were 90 for six before Justin Ontong and Werner Coetsee played fantastically well, and Eugene Moleon at the end."
The Cobras will once again be most dangerous at the start of innings, with pacemen Charl Willoughby and Alan Dawson among the leading bowlers in the competition and batsmen Adam Bacher, JP Duminy and Henry Davids the most successful top-three, all scoring at a terribly fast rate.
"The Cobras batting is certainly strong, they scored over 200 the other day, and they have a pair of left-and-right high-quality swing bowlers who could determine the result. But they have a lot less pace than other new-ball bowlers in the competition, so hopefully we can get hold of them early on," Parsons said.
Willoughby took three for 26 against the Lions in their first-round encounter, but Dawson was thrashed for 44 runs in 3.5 overs.
But Conrad envisages a different scenario this time round. "Alan was short of a few gallops then, he'd just come out of hiatus. He's bowling a lot better now, as we all knew he would."
While Conrad acknowledged the importance of a free-scoring top-order to his team, he also pointed out a pair of youngsters lower down the order who could be match-winners.
"Our strength in batting probably is numbers one, two and three, but at the back end, Rory Kleinveldt and Vernon Philander are really dangerous big-hitters."
The Cobras flew up to Johannesburg on the morning of their match when the two teams met before, but this time they arrived in Gauteng on Thursday and are banking on much better preparation making a difference to the result.
Parsons is no less confident.
"Things can happen quickly in a 20-over final, but if you look at the form book, all our batsmen have chipped in with match-winning innings. We all know what a quality player Neil McKenzie is and Alviro Petersen made his highest score in a final."