Graeme Smith. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/BERTRAM MALGAS
Graeme Smith. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/BERTRAM MALGAS

The Cricket SA T20 Challenge — packed with a strong contingent of Proteas players — will start in a bio-secure bubble in Durban on Friday with a lot at stake.

The tournament will kick off with a double header as the Titans and the Knights (10am) get the show on the road with the Dolphins and Cobras (2.30pm) clashing in the later match at Kingsmead.

The sponsorless Challenge will be played at the same venue from February 19 to 28.

Cricket SA director of cricket Graeme Smith said it is “contracting season” for national team agreements and urged players to use the T20 tournament and the remaining 4-Day series to stake their claim for places.

“Around the contracts and around the national teams I think there are lots of places up for grabs‚” Smith said.

“We are going into a contracting season now with the 17 contracted players. With the restructuring of the game it is an important time for the selectors and the team management to get their strategies right and to identify who the right people to move forward with are.

“What I want to see is people performing. For me‚ my goal for the coming months is to see all our players stepping up and to see who performs. All national team players will be involved in that as well.”

The postponement of the home three-match Test series against Australia‚ which was to take place in March and April‚ means that all but two Proteas players are available for the Challenge. There will be no less than 20 national players involved on the opening day.

“It feels great to be back playing for the Lions‚” said Proteas speedster Kagiso Rabada‚ who will be steaming in for the Lions against the Warriors on Saturday.

Rabada was part of the core of the Proteas team rested for the T20 series in Pakistan after the Test series against Sri Lanka and should be refreshed.

“It feels really good to come back and just play with some of the guys I played with before‚ even at school level‚ just to contribute to a team that has always been close to my heart‚” he said.

Lions coach Wandile Gwavu said he is pleased to have all his Proteas players back. The last time the T20 Challenge was played in 2019 it was won by the Lions but Gwavu said this edition is a whole new ball game.

“We’re nearly two years on from that now and the dynamics have changed. We need to play well again like we did then‚ but we’re confident and determined to do well‚” he said.

With the T20 World Cup scheduled to take place in India later in 2021‚ the Challenge also offers a chance for players to throw their names into the hat.

“Obviously being a World Cup year‚ the players will have more eyes on them and this is a wonderful place to show what they are capable of‚” said Cobras coach Ashwell Prince.

The tournament will comprise 17 matches in total‚ with each team playing the others once before the franchise with the most points automatically secures a place in the final on February 28.

The teams ending second and third will play a qualifier a day earlier to determine who will feature in the deciding game.

CSA T20 Challenge this weekend (all at Kingsmead Cricket Ground):

Friday:

Titans v Knights (10am)

Dolphins v Cobras (2.30pm)

Saturday:

Lions v Warriors (10am)

Knights v Dolphins (2.30pm)

Sunday:

Cobras v Titans (10am)

Warriors v Dolphins (2.30pm)

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