FREE State all-rounder, Shadley van Schalkwyk, believes home-ground advantage at the Mangaung Oval could be crucial to the outcome of this weekend’s play-off stages of the African T20 Cup.
Free State won the right to host the semi-finals and final in Bloemfontein by virtue of being the only one of the four host affiliates from the four pools to qualify for the knockout phase. The City of Roses venue is one of the largest cricket grounds in the world and visiting teams can take a while to work out the unique dimensions of the outfield. This can particularly be crucial in a Twenty20 match where there isn’t much time to figure out things during match play.
“Although most of the domestic players have played in Bloemfontein before, there are plenty of young cricketers in this Africa T20 Cup who might not have played at the Mangaung Oval yet. It does take a while to get comfortable with how big the outfield actually is,” Van Schalkwyk said.
“It is something we chat about a lot in our team meetings. We discuss which angles we need to cut down, and also how we approach a new batsman when he comes to the crease. Often we will bring in a fielder from the fence about 10/15 yards to ensure the “in-batsman” isn’t able to come back for a two. Obviously there is the bowler who could possibly go for a one-bounce four if the ball gets hit over the fielder’s head, but that’s why we discuss these type of tactics in terms of which length the bowler is going to bowl beforehand.”
Van Schalkwyk has been impressed by the quality of cricket on display, especially from youngsters like 19-year-old fast bowler, Lwandiswa Zuma, who is playing on a bigger stage for the first time. He does believe the overall standard will improve even more this weekend now that the players will utilise the white ball again instead of the pink balls that were used for the group stages.
“I think we will see the cricket moving to a higher level this weekend. It’s obviously the knockout stages and the guys want to put in their best performances. But also going back to the more familiar white ball will help. The day matches were fine with the pink ball, but it was a little tough in the evening to really pick it up in the outfield. Using the white ball will definitely help the guys put in bigger performances,” Van Schalkwyk added.
Having been the RAM SLAM T20’s Challenge’s leading wicket-taker last season, Van Schalkwyk has all the experience of playing in big finals and tournaments such as the Champions League T20 previously. He is hoping to impart this experience on his Free State teammates when they face up to an in-form KwaZulu-Natal Inland team on Saturday at 2pm.
“Twenty20 is a funny game. It just takes one guy to play a blistering innings to take the game away from you. But at the same time, there are plenty of pressure moments, especially with the ball, and that is when you want the experienced guys to keep everyone calm to help the bowler execute his skills,” he said.
The other semi-final between Northerns and KwaZulu-Natal will take place on Saturday at 10h00 with the Final on Sunday at 10h00.