TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
CENTURION is where the franchise T20 final will be played on Friday, but the Eastern Cape is writ large all over the match – and not only because the Titans’ opponents are the Warriors.
For one thing the home side are coached by Mark Boucher, whose vowels are still as flat as the skyline of his native East London even though he calls Cape Town home these days.
For another Malibongwe Maketa, whose name once rubbed syllables with those of Makhaya Ntini and Dumisa Makalima in predictions of how the Eastern Cape was the crucible of cricket in this country, holds down the same job as Boucher with the Warriors.
But let’s not get carried away with the comparison. The Warriors’ only successes are the one-day and T20 titles they won in 2009-10 while the Titans have claimed nine trophies outright and shared another two.
You could see where the two cultures part ways in Titans captain Albie Morkel’s comments to reporters in Centurion on Thursday.
“I’m not a big fan of holding back in a T20 game,” Morkel said. “Come (Friday) on a flat wicket, if you get balls to hit in the first six, we know our batsmen have the freedom to go and express themselves.
“Even more so if you can get off to a good start without losing a wicket. It will put their bowlers under massive pressure.
“It’s about summing up the conditions. If the wicket is going to allow it then go for it. If it’s a bit difficult, hopefully we have experience to look after the new ball and capitalise later.”
Contrast that with Maketa suggesting that his team reaching the final was a happy accident: “Our biggest focus in the off-season was to get better at four-day cricket.
“I believe that if you nail your four-day skills your can always transfer them to the other competitions.
“So we really worked hard on executing our skills under pressure, knowing that when it comes to white-ball cricket we’re just going to up the intensity.
“That’s what we focused on in the off-season, not T20 cricket.”
Maketa also had nice things to say about the Titans, where he got his start in coaching as an assistant to Richard Pybus and was put in charge of the amateur side – who won the provincial one-day and T20 competitions under his guidance.
“I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity I was given here,” Maketa said. “(Former Titans chief executive) Elise (Lombard) and Richard Pybus took me and I was always surrounded by a great team in the background. That’s why this place has been successful.
“To come here and win would be really special for me in the sense that my coaching was grounded here.”
But Warriors captain Jon-Jon Smuts wasn’t about to allow Maketa to hide his role in taking the Eastern Capers to a brink they really visit.
“We’ve had a good culture change under ‘Mali’,” Smuts said. “He’s really brought the team along.
“A lot of senior players have put in big performances this season and winning the Africa Cup has given us lots of confidence.
“The Warriors have always had players in the top batting and bowling statistics, but we’ve probably not finished games off as senior players. This year what we’ve stressed is for senior players to go out there and win the game for the team.
“When ‘Mali’ took over the side (midway through the 2014-15 season) he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to take the team forward.
“It’s been very easy for me to sit around and be the man in the background. ‘Mali’s’ really led the team well.”
Or was Smuts trying to be gentle with his coach because he knew they would soon have to have a potentially difficult conversation about whether Kyle Abbott or Andrew Birch should make the XI.
Abbott is fresh from reinvigorating his career with a polished performance on the test tour of Australia.
Birch is the competition’s second-highest wicket-taker and its leader in terms of average and strike rate.
And, it seems, there’s no room for both.
Tough call but that’s OK: Eastern Capers are as tough as they come.