Dane Vilas admits that their ability to gel as a group was one of the biggest factors in the Jozi Stars winning the inaugural Mzansi Super League title on Sunday.
The Johannesburg set-up drew the curtain on South Africa’s blockbuster new Twenty20 competition by thumping the Cape Town Blitz by eight wickets in the final at PPC Newlands.
Led by the outstanding fast bowling trio of Kagiso Rabada (1/16), Duanne Olivier (2/32) and Man of the Match Beuran Hendricks (2/21), the visitors stunned the home batting line-up by restricting them to a sub-par 113/7 on a sluggish pitch in Cape Town.
Rassie van der Dussen, the leading run-scorer in the competition, then struck an unbeaten 59 (54 balls, 8 fours, 1 six) to fittingly lead his side to victory with 15 deliveries to spare.
It concluded a wonderful campaign for the Stars, and captain Vilas lauded the unity and understanding that had developed within their squad during the month-long competition, saying it played a vital role in their success.
“I don’t think I could have asked anything more from my team,” he admitted. “They turned it on in the final when it mattered most and won us the title. I have to give credit to the whole team in general, the boys were brilliant.
“It’s difficult in a tournament like this to find a good squad and guys who sort of enjoy each other’s company and really want to be part of something special, but with us everybody from the start wanted that.”
“So, thanks to the management and staff for the role they played in bringing us together, every single one of them played a critical role in our success.
“Even our bus driver was an incredible inspiration for us. We really enjoyed playing together and I think that’s what made our team.”
The Stars, who are coached by Enoch Nkwe, came second in the league phase of the competition behind the Blitz and had to play a Qualifier against the Paarl Rocks to get to the final. That game, though, was abandoned due to rain, putting the eventual champions in the final by virtue of ending higher up on the table compared to the third-placed Rocks.
They then went on to secure the title in emphatic fashion in front of nearly 12,000 fans at the picturesque Newlands.
Vilas hailed the inaugural season as a massive success, saying he only expected the MSL T20 to get bigger and better in the years ahead.
“I don’t know how it’s going to get better from here,” he added. “It was an unbelievable start for Cricket South Africa, the way people warmed to the tournament and the numbers that have watched on TV. I think it’s only going to get better and better.”
Van der Dussen, meanwhile, felt experience was key in their success. The 29-year-old, who ended up scoring 469 runs at a strike-rate of 138.75, was a revelation in the tournament with his booming six-hitting and ability to rattle almost every attack.
He said: “From the start I said that we have so many experienced guys in the team, and I felt that would hold us in good stead.
“I think my feelings were spot on. We showed it throughout the tournament and in the final as well.
“We had such a well-rounded batting line up and in terms of our bowling, I mean we have the best bowler in the world in KG (Kagiso Rabada) and another two top-class pacers (Olivier and Hendricks) to back him up.
“On top of that there was a world-class spinner in Simon (Harmer), so just a superb team and I think that’s why we came out on top.”
Like Vilas, Rabada felt that the camaraderie within the group was key. “It’s been amazing,” he added. “We didn’t have a great start, but when I joined the team it just felt like a good environment. We’ve had a real bond in the team.
“After we had a bit of a tough spell, we decided to really turn it on and give it our best shot. That’s what we’ve done, and it’s come off for us.”