The Mzansi Super League (MSL) enters the home stretch of the first phase of the regular season with five of the six teams vying for the top three positions that are set to be decided in the next seven days.
Two of those, the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants and Tshwane Spartans, clash in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, with one of the two guaranteed to at least go joint top – weather permitting at St George’s Park.
The pair have 19 points apiece, which is four behind the Paarl Rocks, who have played a game more, and a win will put them in prime position for an automatic berth in the December 16 Final, the reward for the top team after the 10 league-phase games.
Giants captain Jon-Jon Smuts, whose side have lost back-to-back games for their first defeats of MSL 2.0, admits the stakes will be high in the Eastern Cape.
“I’ve said it before the last five games that every game is a big game in this competition and the one against Tshwane will be no different,” he said. “I think there are five teams still in the running and that all five can still come first, so that shows how close the competition is this year.
“We treat every game as a must-win game. Just to keep trying and playing our best cricket and trying to get into that top three.”
The teams that end second and third will then contest a Qualifier, with the winner progressing to the decisive game.
Following their twin losses, Smuts acknowledges that he is slightly concerned about their dip in form, especially after beginning the campaign with a bang.
“You never can’t be worried when you don’t win,” he adds. “You always wonder what you could have done better. I still don’t think we played our best cricket in those wins that we had.
“If you go back in the first game, we were 50 for four and we managed to win it. We played a pretty good game against Jozi Stars up at the Wanderers, that was probably one of our better games, Cape Town Blitz again they were 150 after 15 overs and we managed to bring it back and get over the line.
“The place where we have been struggling a little bit maybe has been in the top order, in the powerplay.
“I think we’re getting close to what we want to do in terms of getting the batting powerplay sorted, like we did much better in the last game, our bowling needs to be up like how it was earlier in the competition, so that’s what our focus remains on being.”
Tshwane, meanwhile, have been on a role of late, although they were cut down to size for their first loss of the campaign when they went down to the Blitz in front of the biggest crowd of the 2019 MSL season in Cape Town on Sunday.
Star batsman AB de Villiers conceded that they were under par in that defeat but feels that they still have every chance of reaching the business end of the competition.
“We were a little bit off the money in that last game,” he stated. “But that happens sometimes.
“We would like to win every game we play from here. I think we’re maybe two wins away from going through to the knockouts.
“We would obviously like to win all three that are left to finish top of the log. I think we have a very good chance should we win the rest to do that, but I think even with one win we could still go through.
“So we’ll have to wait and see.”
The Nelson Mandela Bay Giants squad: Imran Tahir, Jason Roy, Chris Morris, Jon-Jon Smuts (capt), Junior Dala, Matthew Breetzke, Onke Nyaku, Ben Dunk, Heino Kuhn, Marco Marais, Beuran Hendricks, Grant Thomson, Akhona Mnyaka, Ryan ten Doeschate, Nandre Burger, Dylan Matthews.
The Tshwane Spartans squad: AB de Villiers, Tom Curran, Morne Morkel, Lungi Ngidi, Heinrich Klaasen (capt), Theunis de Bruyn, Roelof van der Merwe, Lutho Sipamla, Pite van Biljon, Tony de Zorzi, Waqar Salamkheil, Dean Elgar, Wiaan Mulder, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Corbin Bosch, Donovan Ferreira.