Amla in ahead of Watson

2008-04-17 00:00

DOUG Watson, the opening batsman who has played for the KZN Dolphins over the last 15 years, has been dropped for the Standard Bank Pro20 semi-final at Kingsmead this evening.

Returning SA Test batsman Hashim Amla takes his place for the clash with the Gestetner Eagles, which starts at 6 pm.

Watson (34) has 130 first-class games and 126 limited-over matches to his credit and, ironically, his return to the Dolphins side in Pro20 round three — after two early losses — saw the Durban-based franchise go on a four-match unbeaten run that took them to the semi-finals from a seemingly hopeless position.

In those four matches, the super-fit opener succeeded twice with the bat. Taking strike rates, runs scored and averages into account, Watson is also the most successful Dolphins limited-over batsman since the advent of franchise cricket.

“I am really disappointed not to be playing in the semis, as I was determined to put in a good performance for the team and help get the Dolphins into the final,” Watson said. “I felt I had done enough to retain my place and the frustration of not having my contract renewed meant I was hoping to be part of a Dolphins side winning the final, and with it a Pro20 winners medal for the mantelpiece.”

Dolphins coach Yashin Ebrahim told The Witness yesterday that Amla’s inclusion at the expense of Watson is the only change to the side that demolished the Lions in Johannesburg a week ago.

The Dolphins, buoyed by the outstanding form of left-arm paceman Yusuf Abdullah and fellow frontline bowler Johann Louw, fancy their chances of reaching the final.

“Preparation has gone well, the players have worked hard this week and the side that handles the pressure best on the day will win,” Ebrahim said.

For Dolphins captain Ahmed Amla, who was with Ebrahim and the team at a braai when contacted by The Witness late yesterday, the catalyst to the team’s turnaround has been a newfound belief following the must-win match against Zimbabwe.

“The guys really believe they can win this semi-final,” he said. “The Eagles are a very good side, but we are confident we have the ability to win this one.”

The loss of Jacques Rudolph and Ryan McLaren to their counties didn’t hamper the Eagles last time out, when they beat the Warriors by five wickets in their final league match.

And in Loots Bosman, they have the Pro20 batsman with the best strike rate and comfortably the highest-aggregate runs. The Dolphins won’t have forgotten that their second defeat was to a Bosman batting blitzkrieg and a rampant Eagles side who won by 10 wickets.

The prospect of a chance at a R2 million payday for the finalists in the SB Pro20 also looms large for both sides, aside from the R500 000 first prize to the franchise that wins next Saturday’s showdown.

The couple of million is on offer for the winners of a European Champions League-style T20 competition, that includes the top two provincial sides from the best cricket nations in the world. This event takes place in India later this year.

A threat to a reasonable Kingsmead crowd for the semi-final is the opening Indian Premier League T20 match between Bangalore Royal Challengers and Kolkata Knights, which is also live on TV.

TV: from 5.30 pm on SS2 and CSN.

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