The domestic scene has been hampered quite a bit with the uncertainty and frustration with Cricket South Africa. Lack of sponsors, court battles with the South African Cricketers Association (SACA) and Western Province Cricket and finally calls for the entire board of CSA to step down after five seasoned cricket journalists had their accreditation revoked by now-suspended CEO, Thabang Moroe. But all this did not stop the Highveld Lions from dominating in the four-day competition and CSA T20 Challenge while the Multiply Titans regained some pride with victory in the Momentum One-Day Cup.
But the highlight of the domestic scene came in Paarl where the Paarl Rocks, led by national captain Faf du Plessis, cruised to an emphatic Mzansi Super League 2.0 title in style.
Lions roar to 4-Day title
It is not often that a South African 4-Day competition goes down to the wire in such exciting fashion but the 2018/19 season ended with just that. Heading into the final round of games, the WSB Cape Cobras were leading the standings by just over three points with the Lions hosting the Warriors in Potchefstroom and the Cobras travelling to Pietermaritzburg to take on the Hollywoodbets Dolphins.
The Lions, despite being in deep trouble at 96 for six on day one, reached 440 all out thanks to a 301-run stand for the seventh wicket between Bjorn Fortuin (183) and Delano Potgieter (145) before bowling the Warriors out for 403, a lead of just 37. In contrast the Cobras had bowled the Dolphins out for 310 despite an opening stand century between Vaughn van Jaarsveld (120) and Michael Erlank (50) with Vernon Philander (4-46) and George Linde (4-62) bagging most of the wickets.
The Cobras declared their first innings closed on a mammoth 523 for seven thanks to a double-century from man of the match Zubayr Hamza (201), a lead of 217. So far, things were going the way of the current log leaders. But some aggressive captaincy from Temba Bavuma saw the Lions declare their second innings on 292 for eight overnight, leaving the Warriors needing 330 to win on the final day.
The Cobras needed some magic on their final day with the Dolphins starting on 66 without loss, trailing by 147 runs. The home side though put up a fight and amassed 358 for two at the close with Erlank (85), Van Jaarsveld (79, Marques Ackerman (89 not out) and Khaya Zondo (88 not out) all scoring half centuries.
On the highveld though things were tensing up with the Warriors teetering on 204 for eight when the final hour of play was called. Nandre Burger (4-72) then removed Basheer Walters (22) to leave the Lions needing just one wicket. With time running out, Bavuma turned to Wihan Lubbe, who just needed three balls to win the game and with that, the title for the Lions.
Proof that winning the title was a team effort from the Johannesburg-based franchise was proof in the stats with the Knights’ Keegan Petersen (923), the Warriors’ Eddie Moore (921) and the Cobras’ Pieter Malan (821) occupying the top three spots on the runs charts while the Lions’ Nicky van den Bergh ended sixth with just 691 runs.
The Cobras dominated the ball with Dane Piedt, back to his best, claiming 54 wickets while his partner, Dane Paterson, was some 20 wickets back with just 34. Former Cobras left-arm seamer, Beuran Hendricks was the third for the Lions, capturing 32 wickets while Ethan Bosch (31) of the Dolphins rounded off the bowlers who had more than 30 scalps.
Titans recapture 50-over magic
The Multiply Titans reclaimed the Momentum One Day Cup, a title they won two years back, after falling short in the semi-finals against the Warriors last season. Aiden Markram had a phenomenal season for the light-blues, scoring 542 runs in just five innings at an average of 108.4 which allowed the Titans to top the log. Markram was aided by Tony de Zorzi (404) and Theunis de Bruyn (361) who averaged 50.50 and 51.57 respectively.
The Titans proved their dominance in the 50-over game by dismissing the Cobras for just 187 in a five-wicket semi-final victory before demolishing the Dolphins in the final by a massive 135 runs at Supersport Park in Centurion. Markram scored three centuries in his five innings, the third of which he notched up in the final.
The success to the title charge was not only due to the bat of Markram but also to the bowling prowess of Junior Dala with the right-arm seamer bagging 27 wickets at a stunning average of just 16.59 and an economy rate of 5.29. Dala’s dominance with the ball was so evident that his nearest rival for the top of the standings was the Cobras’ Rory Kleinveldt, who could only manage 15 scalps.
Such was the vain of form that Markram found himself in, he needed just 88 balls for his 127 which included five boundaries and eight maximums. Markram was well supported in the final by Dean Elgar (58 off 42 balls) and Farhaan Behardien (35 off 19 balls) after De Bruyn (72) had laid a patient platform for their total of 356 for five.
The Dolphins could not withstand the onslaught from veteran speedster Dale Steyn. Steyn claimed 3-36 to help reduce the visitors to 166 for five, a position they were not able to recover from, finally being bundled out for 221.
The Lions, buoyed by their 4-day success, fell flat in the shorter format, not necessarily due to performance. Four of their games were abandoned due to weather and they could only manage two victories in the other six starts. Amazingly, the two victories they did secure were against the eventual winners, beating the Titans by eight wickets in Potchefstroom before securing a seven run victory in Benoni.
Lions claw their way back
Had weather not played a part in their 50-over campaign, the Lions would have been staring at an unbelievable season. They put that disappointment behind them and turned their focus to the shortest format of the game, the CSA T20 – still without a title sponsor.
Despite being hampered by three no-results, the Lions still secured five victories which left them top of the standings at the end of the round-robin phase of the competition. The Lions beat the Dolphins in the semi finals to setup a mouth-watering clash with the Warriors in the final. Their first encounter of the season was washed out and the Warriors smashed the Lions by nine wickets in the return game in Johannesburg.
Bavuma smashed a 63-ball 104 which included 11 fours and two sixes as the Lions posted 203 for four. Fortuin claimed 4-27 as the Warriors were bowled out for 192 but the chase will be remembered for Jon-Jon Smuts’ lonely effort. The Warriors captain smashed 11 boundaries and seven sixes as he tried to hold the chase together before falling for a 60-ball 121.
Despite the Titans ending second-from-bottom, De Bruyn stood head and shoulders above his teammates, scoring 348 runs in seven innings at an average of 69.9, which included three half centuries and while the Lions’ Rassie van der Dussen matched De Bruyn for runs, the Lions top-order batsman only averaged 58 from nine innings, which included four fifties. Bavuma ended third with 326 runs and one of only three players to have scored a ton, along with Smuts and Van Jaarsveld.
Fortuin’s four wickets in the final helped the spinner end top of the wicket takers with 15 scalps, surpassing Kleinveldt (14), Andrew Birch (12) of the Warriors and Dala (11) of the Titans.
Lions continue from where they left off
The Johannesburg-based side continued their four-day success heading into the 2019/2020 season, leading the standings after the first four games with two victories, leading the VKB Knights by 3.04 points. After winning their opening encounter against the WSB Cape Cobras by just 11 runs, the Lions suffered a three-wicket defeat to the Warriors and a draw against the Knights before smashing the Dolphins by an innings and 15 runs in Johannesburg to head into the T20 break in the place they finished off the last campaign.
Malusi Siboto has been brilliant with the ball for the Lions, claiming 19 wickets at just 16 runs per wicket while the twin-seamers Dwaine and Migael Pretorius have both claimed 10 wickets apiece. Reeza Hendricks and Van der Dussen have been the leading run-scorers for the champions, scoring 313 and 307 runs respectively although Van der Dussen’s average sit at 76.75 to Hendricks’ 52.16.
The Knights’ pressure on the Lions at the top is thanks in no small way to Raynard van Tonder and Pite van Biljon with Van Tonder already having racked up 546 runs at an amazing average of 109.20 while Van Biljon has 466 runs under the belt. On the bowling front, the Knights have Gihahn Cloete and Shaun von Berg to thanks with the pair claiming 17 and 15 wickets respectively.
The teams head back to the four-day battlefield on Thursday 19 December with the Lions hosting their trans-Jukskei rivals, the Multiply Titans – now without head coach Mark Boucher, who was elevated to the national side. The Knights head to Paarl to take on the Cape Cobras while the Dolphins and Warriors do battle in Durban.
Paarl Rocks revel in Mzansi Magic
The Winelands town of Paarl captured the essence of the Mzansi Super League 2.0 with some inventive play, near-capacity crowds and some magic from a few ‘old’ hands. The Rocks’ fans turned out in droves, nearly filling the 7500-capicity stadium on nearly every occasion – something the other franchises failed to do on many occasions.
The Rocks, though, deserved the title, winning in style in the final against the Tshwane Spartans at Eurolux Boland Park in Paarl with veteran opener Henry Davids smashing the fastest MSL fifty. Davids smashed his fifty off only 22 balls, leading his side to victory with an unbeaten 77 off only 44 balls with eight boundaries and four maximums as the Rocks reached 148 for two inside 15 overs. The Spartans had been led by AB de Villiers, who cracked 51 off 37 balls with just three fours and a six in a below-par total of 147 for six, giving the Rocks victory by eight wickets and 34 balls to spare.
The Rocks reached the final by beaten the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants in their final pool game by 12 runs to leapfrog the Eastern Cape franchise to the top of the log – a position the Giants had held for most of the season. The Spartans path to the Eliminator was secured when the Durban Heat’s final game against the Jozi Stars was abandoned without a ball being bowled.
The Giants though, fell away in their last two games, losing to the Rocks and then losing to the Spartans in Port Elizabeth, thanks mainly to allrounder David Wiese, who scored an unbeaten 31 and then claimed 3-30 in four overs to give the Spartans a 22-run victory and an appearance in the final.
The surprise of the season came from the champions of the inaugural MSL, the Stars, who went through MSL2.0 without a win to their name despite having stars such as Chris Gayle, Van der Dussen, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier.
Australian Ben Dunk finished as the tournament’s leading run-scorer with 415 runs at an average of 51.87 with Janneman Malan of the Cape Town Blitz not far behind on 358 runs. De Villiers finished the MSL2.0 as the only other batsman to score more than 300 runs, ending on 325 but with four half-centuries to his name, one more than Dunk, Malan and Reeza Hendricks of the Stars.
Imran Tahir proved that he still has magic in his right-arm, claiming 17 wickets at 14.23 with fellow spinner, Tabraiz Shamzi of the Rocks, ending with 16 wickets. The Blitz’s Dale Steyn rounded off the top three with 15 scalps, showing the national selectors that he still has it in him to make the T20 World Cup next year.
**as published on Supersport.com