“We had an upward curve when a lot of teams had a downward curve.”
VKB KNIGHTS captain Pite van Biljon admits he was disappointed that COVID-19 cut the 2019/20 season short, pointing out that the Central Franchise was on an upward curve when their campaign prematurely ended.
The Bloemfontein-based outfit had just won one of their biggest matches of the campaign – a crunch final round-robin match against the Momentum Multiply Titans – to seal a place in the Momentum One-Day Cup semi-finals. This after a woeful start to the 50-over term that saw them fail to win any of their first four matches, before they recovered to finish fourth.
But before their scheduled semi-final against the Hollywoodbets Dolphins, Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced a 60-day cancellation of the game due to the coronavirus outbreak that has left the world in an unprecedented standstill.
“It was a bit disappointing because we were in an upward curve,” Van Biljon lamented. “The guys started to figure out the game plan and their roles in the game plan. We started to get a nice brand of cricket going, so it is unfortunate, but I think we can take a lot of positives out of it. We had an upward curve when a lot of teams had a downward curve.”
Overall the Knights finished fourth in both the One-Day Cup and 4-Day Domestic Series, where they were also well-placed to mount a strong title bid in the last two rounds. They were a little over nine points behind the Imperial Lions, who were subsequently declared winners, in the latter competition after the season was cut short.
“If I look back, I’d say we had a slow start,” Van Biljon said. “Obviously in the four-day stuff we were right in the mix to contend for the trophy. We had a bad game against the Lions in Jo’burg which set us back a little bit, but we then pushed them really well in Kimberley. We had two good wins against the Warriors so we were very happy with the way we were playing four-day cricket.
“One-day cricket, it was the same as last year, we had a very slow start and had to re-adjust our roles in the team and the way each guy played. We had to look at what we expected from them and make the messages clearer. Definitely in the second half of the season we got going a lot better. I’d say we were definitely heading in the right direction coming towards the business end of the season.
“We won that key game against the Titans that was effectively a quarter-final, so there definitely was a lot of momentum behind us heading into the semis. Like I said, there was an upward curve towards the end the season and we were looking good for the final month.”
There was also a lot of promise shown in terms of young players that came through at the franchise.
Gerald Coetzee, Raynard van Tonder and Wandile Makwetu were all shining lights and were accordingly praised by the skipper.
He said: “Gerald had a great start for us in the four-day campaign and then he got chosen for the Under-19 squad. Unfortunately, he got injured after that with quite a bad toe injury, so we missed him for the rest of the season. A guy bowling at 145 and can hit a long ball down the order, he could have made an even bigger impact.
“And then in the four-day stuff, we had a guy like Raynard van Tonder, who ended up being the leading scorer in the competition. I think it was his second season for us and that was very much positive. We also had Wandile Makwetu, Shaun von Berg, (Mbulelo) Budaza, so there were a lot of positives.”
The Knights also had some coaching disruptions after Alan Kruger was replaced, with JP Triegaardt and Werner Coetsee also serving in between. In the end, the Proteas legend was appointed as the new coach for next season and Van Biljon did not hide his feelings about the move.
“Well obviously I’m thrilled, I mean this guy’s a Hall of Famer,” he added. “He’s probably regarded as one of the best bowlers that ever played the game. He’s just been named as Warwickshire’s best overseas player ever. This guy is a legend and you know he’s got international coaching experience with Australia, England, Sri Lanka, South Africa, so he brings a heap of experience and an international mentality.
“For us it’s a massive bonus to have him here. You can see when he came even halfway into the season, the impact he had with the way we played was massive. And not just with bowling, even with batting, so I can only speak good things.”