Wed, 05 Aug 2020

Lions primed for years of success

09 Jul 2020, 04:42 GMT+10

The Lions won back-to-back 4-Day Series titles in 2019 and 2020 but are shaping up to achieve more domestic success in coming years.Smart organisational recruitment, top player retention and growth of promising young players has put the Lions in a good position to dominate.Their young coach, Wandile Gwavu, has built good relationships with the players he's mentoring, such as Proteas seamer Lutho Sipamla.

With the squad they've assembled and a keen as mustard head coach, Wandile Gwavu, the Lions are looking primed for some meaty years ahead of them from next season.

The Lions were named the 4-Day Series winners in March, their second such title in as many years, after the premature conclusion of all cricket competitions due to Covid-19's impact.

The man at their helm, 33-year-old spry young coach Gwavu, believes with the mix of world class players like Proteas batsman Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen, good young players and star recruits, the Lions can dominate domestic cricket again.

"I think we've got the squad to do even better," Gwavu said.

"We've built a good foundation and we've assembled a solid squad. There's nothing stopping us from dominating franchise cricket for the next couple of seasons.

"One of the guys I've been excited to work with is Temba Bavuma. He is fully professional and is one of the best people I've ever been around in cricket.

"He's easy to work with and he oozes excellence as a result of the professionalism he displays daily. Rassie van der Dussen is another I enjoy working with as well as someone who is underrated in South African cricket, Malusi Siboto.

"Malusi has put in a lot of good performances each season and I sometimes struggle to understand why he hasn't gotten the nod to play at the highest level. I know age is not on his side but I'm hoping that his time is coming.

"Two youngsters that are going to be really good are Bjorn Fortuin and Kagiso Rapulana. They've got a very unique way of getting on with the game and with the job. They're not household names but they've played vital roles in the line-up in the past two or three seasons.

"I've enjoyed working with the whole change room but those are the people I think can make a massive impact in South African cricket."

Earlier this year four new signings - Lutho Sipamla, Tladi Bokako, Sisanda Magala and Wesley Marshall - were confirmed new Lions recruits for the 2020/21 season.

Magala, 29, who was on the brink of his Proteas debut last season, joined from the Warriors where he had a number of stellar seasons, especially in the white ball formats.

Sipamla, 22, introduced himself to First Class cricket three years ago and by 2019 he was a Proteas seamer. Gwavu revealed that they had a particularly special decade-long relationship, which would only serve to bolster the Lions' chances of success.

"Not a lot of people know but I come a long way with all three of them (Sipamla, Bokako and Magala)," he said.

"I've worked with them before, especially Sipamla, whom I've worked with from the age of about 10 or 11 in Port Elizabeth, where we both grew up.

"Before he joined the Lions, he used to come to Jo'burg to do some work with me for about a week. We've got a really good and strong relationship, which goes back a long way.

"There's not much you can say about that kid; he has a lot of talent in him. He is capable of playing at the highest level for many more years and it's great that he's one of ours come next season.

"I'm excited about all four new signings, including Wesley Marshall, whom I know as being a very talented batter with X-factor, especially in white ball cricket.

"The bowlers, Magala and Bokako, are going to be under the guidance of Kagiso Rabada, Beuran Hendricks and them. Magala has proven season in and season out that he's just about good enough to play for the Proteas and maybe he needs a little bit of a push. The senior bowlers in our attack will offer him that."

While he has been successful at such a young age, Gwavu has not allowed the recent accolades, including winning the Cricket South Africa coach of the season award last weekend, to make him complacent.

He believes he still has much to learn as a coach and a person thrust into a leadership position. And from the sounds of it, the acclaim has only made him hungrier to get better and achieve sustained success.

"I am still relatively young as a person, never mind as a coach," said Gwavu.

"We work with a lot of different people, young and experienced cricketers. And one thing I need to work tirelessly on is managing people and creating clear pathways for them to grow and possibly play for the Proteas.

"The second thing is consistency. It's easy to start something, no matter what the project is or whether it's in sports or in the corporate world.

"It's easy to get people to look in your direction when you've done like I've done now - won a trophy and won coach of the year - but to actually come back the next season and be consistent with the hard work you put in and improving yourself is the most difficult thing."

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