Mon, 06 Jul 2020

Franchise cricket's best buys for the coming season

29 May 2020, 22:10 GMT+10

Franchise cricket's recruitment for next season is notable for how well some new faces could fit in their roles.It's not the high profile moves that actually represent the best business for franchises.

Player movements have remained surprisingly pronounced despite the economic landscape.

Government's announcement that training for non-contact sports can resume when the country resumes to lockdown Level 3 has brought with it a distinct sense of anticipation that domestic cricket could resume on-time for next season.

Following 2019/20's truncated campaign, there's been far more attention given - at least by the franchises' communications teams themselves - to off-season comings-and-goings.

Those announcements seemed to pale a bit in significance initially as South Africa in general grappled with the realities of the Covid-19 crisis, but Thursday's news has allowed some returning intrigue to return.

Interestingly, franchise cricket in general has always had busy off-seasons in terms of player movements, though not all of them are particularly earth-shattering.

The 2020/21 season's contracting is notable for some big shifts, such as Tony de Zorzi joining the Cobras from the Titans, Thando Ntini going the other way and Lutho Sipamla moving from St George's Park to the Wanderers.

But the real fun lies in determining which players potentially represent the best value for money for each franchise and those individuals aren't necessarily the big guns.

Here's our picks for bargain buys.

CAPE COBRAS: Calvin Savage

At 27, the former national Under-19 player ran the risk of having his career fizzle out at the Dolphins as he languished in the semi-pro setup.

Much of that was down to the presence of too many bowling all-rounders at Kingsmead and the KwaZulu-Natalians' recruitment of 22-year-old Ruan de Swardt was the final straw.

Savage, perhaps better known for his bowling exploits (167 first-class scalps at 24.7 and 64 List A victims at 26.3), becomes eminently more valuable when one realises he's scored two red-ball hundreds as well as another in the 50-over format too.

Cobras mentor Ashwell Prince is acutely aware of the value of versatility, particularly after the departures of Vernon Philander, Rory Kleinveldt and Dane Piedt, and genuinely seems to employ all-rounders as key players in his line-up.

Savage has the skill to fulfil that role with aplomb ... and now the opportunity too.

DOLPHINS: Keegan Petersen

Another "KP" in Durban.

The Dolphins have never had a shortage of stroke-makers that are soft on the eye at the crease, but gritty competitors who can really fill their boots with runs have been in shorter supply.

Petersen, who hails from Paarl and really established himself at the Knights, comes to Kingsmead as a man with a mission.

2018/19's superb tally of 923 runs at 62 promised to blossom into something even more substantial, especially after his 111 for South Africa 'A' against England saw him being selected as a fringe member of the Test squad.

But he lost form as well as prominence in the national selectors' thoughts.

The diminutive 26-year-old right-hander genuinely possesses the credentials to be the mainstay of the Dolphins' batting order, a player with 15 first-class centuries and the ability to adapt his game to various situations.

KNIGHTS: Alfred Mothoa

One of Hammanskraal's favourite sporting sons is nicknamed "Harmison", specifically because he mirrored his bowling action on English Test player Steve Harmison.

Thankfully, the 30-year-old seamer is far less temperamental.

The Titans hierarchy will tell you gleefully that Mothoa is one of the hardest working players on the domestic circuit, always ready to shoulder an extra bowling load and keep plugging away.

New Knights coach Allan Donald admitted that's the type of attitude he values in a player.

More importantly, Mothoa is exactly the presence their potent pace attack requires.

In Gerald Coetzee, Duan Jansen and Migael Pretorius, the Knights boast genuine wicket-takers, but all three are still highly inexperienced.

They need someone to be the glue, the guy who keeps things under control while they focus ruthlessly on scalps.

"Harmison" is the ideal candidate.

HIGHVELD LIONS: Sisanda Magala

The burly bowling all-rounder is still on the national radar, attesting to his influence at franchise level, but the bonus for the Lions is that they can reasonably expect him to be available for the majority of the season.

Magala is close to the perfect signing for South Africa's leading franchise these past two years.

The Lions possess oodles of class and talent, but there's a fair argument to be made that while they hardly lack reliability, they could do with a bit more mercurial performers.

The 29-year-old is exactly that, a skilful bowler with a bag of tricks, particularly as a death bowler.

He'll be the X-factor in the line-up, someone who'll grab you 6/24 (his standout performance this season) when you need it most, or strike lusty blows in the lower order to pull a difficult chase out of the fire.

TITANS: Sibonelo Makhanya

A former national Under-19 skipper, Makhanya has always been singled out for his maturity and leadership as well as his crisp strokeplay.

His first-class average of 25 points to underachievement in the first phase of his professional career, but there's no denying he's capable of big scores.

The 25-year-old boasts a highest score of 192 and also struck a defiant 128 against a rampant Lions in the Franchise four-day series two seasons ago.

Yet perhaps the biggest illustration of his talent came in the past season's Mzansi Super League for Paarl Rocks.

Striding to the wicket at 53/4, chasing a tough 172, Makhanya led his franchise to a thrilling win, crafting a magnificent, career-best and unbeaten 63 off 47.

With the Titans' legion of Proteas batsmen expected to miss much of the campaign, he can look forward to the type of extended game-time that could see him finally fulfil his talent on a more consistent basis.

WARRIORS: Wihan Lubbe

A stalwart in the semi-pro setup for North West and one of the stars of the much-maligned Varsity Cup Cricket for NWU-Pukke, the elegant but powerful left-hander has finally found a home where he won't be required to keep reminding people of his worth.

Lubbe has been one of the victims of the Lions' strong pipeline, though inconsistency also plagued him in his early franchise appearances.

But his highest first-class score of 166 came in Lions kit and exposed his talent to a broader audience with a productive stint for the Durban Heat, scoring 175 runs at a fabulous strike rate of 184 - the highest of the tournament.

He was also a key performer for the Lions in the One-day Cup with both bat and ball, indicating his newfound maturity.

The feeling is the Warriors have recruited a middle-order stalwart just at the time his career might really take off.

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