Cape Town – Highveld Lions coach Enoch Nkwe hailed the character and tenacity of his players after they did almost the unthinkable by snatching the 4-Day Domestic Series title away from the Cape Cobras in a dramatic climax to the season.
The Johannesburg-based side were crowned 2018/19 champions on Thursday, following a dramatic final day of the first-class franchise term when they beat the Warriors with nine balls of the red-ball campaign remaining.
Their 84-run victory in Potchefstroom followed a draw between the Cobras and the Dolphins in Pietermaritzburg.
The Cape side needed to at least match the result of the Lions to guarantee themselves the title, but on a City Oval wicket offering minimal assistance, that game in KwaZulu-Natal was ended early. It left Ashwell Prince and his side waiting anxiously to hear what happened in the North West and it was not good news as the Lions secured an epic win.
“I really feel for them,” said Nkwe. “They played really well throughout the season, but it’s just the nature of sport.
“I’m sure they will bounce back. Ashwell and his team have been doing a phenomenal job and I have no doubt they will be one of the teams to beat in the years ahead.”
Four games ago, the Cobras were looking like runaway winners of the competition. They had established a lead of well over 30 points thanks to a four-match winning start to the season, but that was slowly eaten into as the Lions went on to match that feat in the last four games.
“It feels great to have pulled it off,” Nkwe explained. “Going into the last game we knew it would be tough, but there was always hope.
“I think some of that hope went away a bit after being 96 for six on the first day, but how the guys responded after lunch, the debutant Delano Potgieter and Bjorn Fortuin with that record partnership and then our second-innings performance with the ball, it was unbelievable.
“To come down to the last five minutes of the day, it’s a reward of all the hard work this team has put into this season and well done to everyone at the Lions for that.”
The title was also another feather in the cap of the growing reputation of Nkwe, who is in his first season as head coach of the Lions.
A little over six weeks ago the 35-year-old was celebrating his first trophy as a senior coach when he led the Jozi Stars, the bulk of whose squad came from his current group of players, to the inaugural Mzansi Super League title.
But he says personal glory is not something he is not too worried about at this stage of his career. “It feels great to win the two big tournaments in South Africa, the so-called two majors,” Nkwe adds. “But for me it was never about the silverware, but rather more about getting Lions cricket moving in the right direction.
“For me that’s really rewarding. We had different players come in at different stages, which really tested our depth, and each and every one of them played a role in this success.”