Champions League offers Warriors, Lions a chance to shine

2010-07-28 00:00

THE Champions League promises to get the cricket season off to an exhilarating start when it gets underway in Johannesburg on September 10. It’s a leaner tournament this year with 10 teams competing in a slightly different format.

The English Cricket Board have announced that none of their county teams will take part due to the tournament clashing with the end of their domestic season.

The Pakistan Cricket Board, apparently still smarting from the snub its players received in the IPL auction, has withdrawn its teams. Recent comments from their chairperson, Ijaz Butt, denying this have not been convincing. At present teams from India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, as well as the winner of the West Indian domestic 20/20 competition will be taking part.

The Chevrolet Warriors, Standard Bank Pro 20 champions and runners-up the Highveld Lions, will represent South Africa. It’s a golden opportunity for our domestic cricketers to rub shoulders with the best, showcase their skill and earn some serious money.

There are huge financial rewards in this lucrative tournament for teams simply turning up. There is also a massive incentive of $2,5 million for the winning team.

For domestic cricketers not yet exposed to international cricket, the Champions League provides a real taste of what it’s like to play in the international arena.

In addition, less well-known franchise cricketers will have a chance to attract the attention of the national selectors and get an early season advantage over other players.

The Highveld Lions have had a number of unsettled seasons and, as a result, a string of poor performan­ces. Among other issues, players have been caught up in disputes between the Wanderers and the Gauteng cricket board, as well as the sudden controversial axing of their captain Neil McKenzie.

Taking part in this year’s Champions League contest could just change their fortunes. It’s also an opportunity for the Lions, under coach Dave Nosworthy and captain Thami Tsolekile, to convince their fans they are a good unit and moving in the right direction.

A welcome boost to the Highveld franchise is the appointment of Kepler Wessels, who has been contracted as the team’s strategic cricket consultant.

With few star players in their line-up, Kepler’s vast experience and technical expertise will be invaluable to the Lions. I’m not convinced that the Gauteng franchise will present any real threat in the tournament, but as Lions coach Nosworthy said recently, “we may just surprise a few”.

I find the Warriors a far more exciting prospect. The Eastern Cape franchise has established themselves as a dominant force in limited overs domestic cricket in South Africa. Their place in the Champions League is just reward.

Warriors coach Russell Domingo, recently named Cricket South Africa’s coach of the year, leads a promising bunch of young cricketers, including domestic player of the year Colin Ingram.

Domingo’s strength is his ability to bring out the best in his young players. The fact that there are eight Warriors’ players in the recently announced South African conditioning squad confirms his coaching talent.

It’s also further proof that when a team starts winning, players get noticed and selection takes care of itself.

The fact that South Africa has yet again been chosen to host a prominent tournament is a further feather in our country’s cap. Whatever the fortunes of our local franchises, this year’s Champions League will undoubtedly provide excellent entertainment value and an incredible kick-start to the season.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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