While the Cobras will have their usual stalwarts plus the powerful all-rounder, Kieron Pollard, in their ranks, the Lions have opted to give opportunities to younger players and build the franchise for the future.
Among their 14 squad members are Bjorn Fortuin and Shaylen Pillay, who are both just 21 years old, as well as Devon Conway, Matt McGillivray, Andre Malan and Nicky van den Bergh, who are all between 24 and 26 and have minimal franchise experience.
“We sat down with the selectors, and we’re basically trying to plot the way forward for Lions cricket,” said coach, Geoff Toyana. “We felt that it’s quite important because we do have a bunch of talented young cricketers. A guy like Conway did well last year - he was player of the year in the semi-professional competition - and yet he can’t seem to get an opportunity.
“So we are trying to go with a young side and we’re very comfortable with that. Hopefully the young pups will gain that valuable experience for the future.”
Guiding the youngsters along will be veteran batsman Alviro Petersen, current Proteas Aaron Phangiso and Eddie Leie, senior fast bowlers Hardus Viljoen and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, and the experienced Thami Tsolekile, who will captain the side.
Left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks remains sidelined for the Cobras, but otherwise the hosts will boast a full complement of players after Andrew Puttick overcame a recurrence of a mouth infection and Rory Kleinveldt was given time to get over a mild calf strain.
Despite their embarrassment of riches in terms of player resources, the defending champions have signed last year’s RAM SLAM T20 Player of the Year, Pollard, for another two seasons, with the West Indian landing in Cape Town on Thursday.
“He did fantastically well for us so we’re hoping for more of the same, but we know it’s going to be a team effort,” said Justin Ontong. “Obviously he’s a world-class player, and it’s not only on the field that he brings a lot of experience - he also helps the boys off the field. He’s a very good professional and a great man to have in your squad.”
Lions squad: Thami Tsolekile (capt, wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Devon Conway, Alviro Petersen, Andre Malan, Shaylen Pillay, Dwaine Pretorius, Aaron Phangiso, Hardus Viljoen, Eddie Leie, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Bjorn Fortuin, Matthew McGillivray, Nicky van den Bergh.
Michael Owen Smith