The Diamond Eagles face their immediate predecessors as Supersport Series cricket champions, the Titans, in what could be a telling clash in the first-class competition, starting in Benoni on Thursday.
Fresh from 10 days’ break, the sides will have had a chance to regroup after something of a roller-coaster start to the season.
The upshot of the first three rounds is that the Diamond Eagles have again emerged as the early pace-setters with a nine-point lead they will be especially eager to have extended by Sunday.
Boeta Dippenaar’s men effectively buried the nightmarish memories of their “28 all out” against the Warriors by outclassing the Highveld Lions in a clash in Bloemfontein which should stand them in good stead for the rest of the season.
Far from being psychologically scarred, the Diamond Eagles are now ready to stamp their authority on the competition and they’ll be aware of the importance of holding a handy lead when the competition takes its midway break in November.
The Titans are also coming off a win, their first in the competition this season, but they still have a few points to prove before they can be considered serious contenders.
Their match against the Warriors in East London was played on an ill-prepared pitch after steady mid-week rain and SA fast bowling ace Morne Morkel expertly exploited the conditions to land the Titans a big win.
Now, with many of the SA stars having left their franchises for national commitments, the depth of the various squads will be under the microscope.
In that regard, the Titans still look a highly capable unit and if they can find a measure of consistency in their batting, they are capable of stretching the log leading visitors.
Talking of pitches, Cape Cobras coach Shukri Conrad will be hoping for fairer conditions when they play their second successive match in Paarl, this time against the Highveld Lions.
The slow, placid nature of the pitch in their previous match at Boland Bank Park against the Dolphins allowed the batsmen to dominate, although quick scoring was also limited by the conditions.
As Conrad was at pains to point out, nobody wants “doctored” pitches, but it’s necessary for the development of top-class players to have decent conditions in which to compete.
The Cobras are without pace spearhead Monde Zondeki (in the SA squad), while Vernon Philander has been sidelined for two matches following an altercation with HD Ackerman in their last fixture. The Cobras have brought in Richard Levi and Francois Plaatjies to replace Herschelle Gibbs and Zondeki, but the experienced trio of Charl Langeveldt, Rory Kleinveldt and Claude Henderson probably hold the key to their chances of victory.
The Lions will again be without Andre Nel, but coach Dave Nosworthy’s side will have a point to prove after being rolled over by the Diamond Eagles.
The Warriors, brought back to earth in their last match, will know they need to knuckle down to their task against the Dolphins, especially as they are unlikely to see much of superstars Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher again.
Johan Botha also has national duty, so the Warriors will be hoping the new opening batting pair of young Jon-Jon Smuts and Michael Smith will come to frution for their clash in Durban against the Dolphins. With Ashwell Prince and Makhaya Ntini still available, there is still a solid look about the Warriors line-up, but they will need to shrug off the inconsistency they have shown this season to be considered serious contenders.
The fixtures and squads are (SA times): Dolphins v Warriors in Durban (9.30am start) Dolphins v Warriors in Durban (9.30am start)
DOLPHINS: Ahmed Amla (captain), Imraan Khan, Grant Rowley, David Miller, Rivash Gobind, Jon Kent, Pierre de Bruyn, Daryn Smit, Quinton Friend, Ugasen Govender, Yusuf Abdulla, Saidi Mlongo.
WARRIORS: Michael Smith, Jon-Jon Smuts, Zander de Bruyn, Arno Jacobs, Ashwell Prince, Davy Jacobs (capt), Justin Kreusch, Robin Peterson, Rusty Theron, Makhaya Ntini, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell. Titans v Diamond Eagles in Benoni (10am start) TITANS: Pierre Joubert (captain), Farhaan Behardien, Faf du Plessis, Blake Snijman, Heino Kuhn, Gulam Bodi, , Basheer Walters, Martin van Jaarsveld, Ethy Mbhalati, Imran Tahir, Paul Harris, Roelof van der Merwe.
DIAMOND EAGLES: Boeta Dippenaar (capt), Dean Elgar, Ryan Bailey, Morne van Wyk, Rilee Rossouw, Victor Mpitsang, Dillon du Preez, Mario Saliwa, CJ de Villiers, Thandi Tshabalala, Con de Lange, Loots Bosman. Cape Cobras v Highveld Lions in Paarl (10am start) COBRAS: Andrew Puttick, Alistair Gray, Henry Davids, Stiaan van Zyl, Richard Levi , Vernon Philander, Ryan Canning, Claude Henderson, Rory Kleinveldt, Charl Langeveldt, Francois Plaatjies, Brendan Adams.
LIONS: Neil McKenzie (capt), Alviro Petersen, Stephen Cook, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Jean Symes, Jonathan Vandiar, Matthew Harris, Cliffie Deacon, Ettienne Gerber, Garnett Kruger, Craig Alexander, Dane Vilas. The standings after three rounds are: Diamond Eagles 38,18; Warriors 29,44; Titans 29,34; Highveld Lions 27,08; Dolphins 19,50; Cape Cobras 18,28.