MODC Qualifier: VKB Knights vs Warriors Preview

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The Hollywoodbets Dolphins peaked too soon and ultimately slipped out of contention, while the Multiply Titans have secured their passage straight into 31 March's final.

This leaves the VKB Knights and Warriors to lock horns in, effectively, an intriguing semi-final. Which team will conclude the successes enjoyed earlier in the week with more victory - and who will rue what could have been?

Knights v Warriors | Sunday, 26 March 2017 | Mangaung Oval, Bloemfontein | 10:00 

To Win Match
Knights 82/100 | Tie 35/1 | Warriors 1/1

VKB Knights
While the men from Bloemfontein were unable to secure an immediate berth in the final, Thursday's tight win over the Dolphins has kept them in the running, with just two more hurdles to negotiate for a second title this season. To extend the athletics metaphor, it has been a marathon 2016-17 season campaign for the Sunfoil Series winners, but there seems to be enough left in the collective tank for a final push.

While the poor collapse endured despite the foundation set by opening batsmen Rudi Second and Tumelo Bodibe in Durban exposed isolated weakness, the heroics enjoyed by tail-enders Sammy Mofokeng and Marchant de Lange embodied the Knights' overall zeal and determination. They'll demand, of each other, far less of the former and plenty more of the latter, come Sunday's showdown.

The Mangaung Oval has not seen franchise cricket since 1 March and, in a relatively dry region, the pitch will likely be free of moisture and - therefore - sans much zip and carry. The temptation to leave out fast bowler Duanne Olivier, then, is obvious. Released by the Proteas in New Zealand and back in the country, one foresees Olivier being recalled to the Knights XI, regardless, though.

The battle of the captains will be particularly fascinating. Knights skipper Pite van Biljon was trumped by Warriors leader Jon-Jon Smuts - at the toss and the crease - the last time the teams met in the Momentum One Day Cup. But the inland franchise boast substantially less of an over-reliance on van Biljon than the coastal unit do on veritable one-man army Smuts.

Warriors
That man Smuts has relished an incredible stretch of form recently. His last five innings, indeed, have yielded 480 runs at a hefty average of 120. The part-time left-arm spinner has also clinched a dozen wickets in the competition. Does his talent know no bounds - and when will the national selectors awake to his permanent value? Sunday will bring some answers.

The Warriors' batting ranks are impressively adept at getting ahead of the required rate early in pursuit and, forcing momentum, when setting a total. The former was pretty evident during Thursday's victory over the bizhub Highveld Lions, though impending inclement weather forced their hand considerably. This same approach will be a must in Bloemfontein.

Seamer Andrew Birch will have a large role to play. Really good at adapting to conditions and mixing in slower deliveries and cheeky off-cutters, the veteran right-armer should prove effective at Mangaung Oval. Second, Bodibe and company will have to be quite pointed and practical in how they handle Birch. Those who try to smack - rather than milk - him out of the attack tend to fail.

Often underestimated and occasionally hampered by Kolpak arrangements, the Warriors consistently punch above their proverbial weight. This Qualifier brings another chance to show they are no longer comfortable with third- or fourth-place finishes. They want to go all the way. With the Knights and, potentially, the Titans standing in their way, a telling seven days await.



Verdict:  Warriors 1/1
Comfortably victorious over the Knights in their two previous 2017 Momentum One Day Cup meetings, the Eastern Cape outfit is on cue for a timely third.

Value bet: To bat first, Warriors 17/20
Smuts and van Biljon are very much 'bat first' captains, but lost the tosses and had to field first against the Lions and Dolphins, respectively, earlier this week.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for @Hollywoodbets.net

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