Titans leapt to top of the table and remain the only unbeaten side with four wins from four matches in a busy Ram Slam week. Titans’ victories last week included a 38-run triumph over Knights, a 61-run win over Warriors, a seven-wicket mauling of Cape Cobras and the successful return of Dale Steyn to competitive cricket.
Steyn’s comeback came in defence of 199 against Knights on Wednesday, where he bowled three overs. The first went for 17 runs but the next two for only eight along with the scalp of Theunis de Bruyn. Though Steyn was the second-most expensive Titans bowler on the night, more economical performances from Albie Morkel, Lungi Ngidi and Tabraiz Shamsi ensured Knights were always behind the required run rate, but they did manage to deny Titans a bonus point.
Ngidi stole the show again on Friday in East London where his career-best T20 figures of 4 for 14 shot out Warriors for 111 in 14.2 overs. Titans again put up a decent score – 172 for 4 – without AB de Villiers, who was rested to allow Dean Elgar a game, but their bowling did the rest. Aiden Markram shared the new ball with Steyn and took 3 for 21 before Ngidi ran through an abject Warriors line-up. Only three batsmen made more than 20.
But Steyn came into his own on Sunday when he helped Titans restrict Cobras to 119 for 9, with a four-over spell that cost only 16 runs and yielded the wickets of Wayne Parnell and Qaasim Adams. JP Duminy top-scored with 40 but Temba Bavuma was the only other Cobras’ batsman to make a score over 15. Despite ducks from openers Quinton de Kock and Henry Davids, who both fell to Vernon Philander, 51 off 36 balls from Markram led Titans’ chase and they won the match inside 14 overs.
Cobras did not have a good weekend on the Highveld and also lost to Lions, who were the only other team to put points on the board last week. Lions got their first win on Friday at the Wanderers, where they chased down 170 against an attack that included Philander, Parnell and Dane Paterson but a fielding side who put down several chances for the second game in a row. Cobras could consider their total a little short despite a 36 from 28 balls from Hashim Amla, 33 from 26 by Parnell, an 18-ball 28 from Bavuma and 55 off 31 balls by captain Duminy. Lions opener Reeza Hendricks started the chase strongly with a 32-ball 42 but it was Mangaliso Mosehle‘s brisk half-century that won them the game. Philander’s four overs cost only 26 but none of the other Cobras bowlers went for under eight an over.
It was much closer for Lions on Sunday in Potchefstroom, where they restricted Dolphins to 168 for 6, after having them 85 for 5 in the 12th over and 116 for 6 in the 17th, but took it to the last ball to chase the total. Lions started well with a half-century from Rassie van der Dussen, sharing a 158-run opening stand with Hendricks who became the competition’s second centurion with a 72-ball 102. The pair was cruising at 158 for 0 in the 19th over but Andile Phehlulwayo took two wickets in two balls and Dolphins got another two wickets off consecutive deliveries in the final over. Wiaan Mulder hit four off the last ball to secure the win.
The other fixture scheduled for this week was between Dolphins and Knights on Friday night in Durban, but the game was washed out.
Steyn’s comeback was the talk of the week as he steadily built up from two matches with three overs each to bowling his full quota of four overs in the third match against Cobras. His figures of 4-0-16-2 was the best of his week.
There was also promising form from some of the other bowlers on the national repair list. Philander, who was expensive in the first match, put in a much tighter performance against Lions and Titans and started to show signs of being back to his best.
However, it was Ngidi who would have made South Africa head coach Ottis Gibson sit up and take note. After going wicketless against Knights on Wednesday, Ngidi took 4 for 14 against Warriors on a traditionally slow, low East London pitch. He also returned 2 for 32 at home against Cobras.
In one of the most intriguing battles of the week, de Villiers took 17 runs off Wayne Parnell’s opening over, which went for 19 in total in the Titans match against Cobras.
Imran Tahir made a return for Dolphins, who chose to field two spinners in their match against Lions, but between Tahir and Keshav Maharaj, they cost Dolphins 43 runs in four overs.
Lions’ batsmen had the most important impact among domestic players. Reeza Hendricks, who has played nine T20Is, the last against England in Cardiff, was not considered for the Bangladesh series but showed that he could still come into contention. He followed up an unbeaten 67 in the opening match with his first T20 century and thrilled with a range of drives that would not have gone amiss on a golf course. Hendricks was particularly harsh against Maharaj, whose only over went for 15.
Mosehle has played seven T20Is this year as a stand-in for de Kock and appears to have been identified as a potential reserve wicketkeeper. His batting ability, however, has not shown itself on the highest stage. His half-century against Cobras provided a glimpse. Mosehle’s aggression off the back foot – which included a hook and a hammer over extra cover, both for six – off Philander was particularly impressive as was the way he guided an imperfect Lions’ effort home.
Beyond the Boundary
Warriors will need to use this competition to say farewell to their coach Malibongwe Maketa, who will leave them at the end of the tournament to take up the job of Gibson’s assistant in the national side. This is the format where they have done Maketa the proudest, reaching the final last summer despite having fewer internationals than anyone else. This season will be trickier for them, because of the presence of all South Africa players in other squads, and they have not started well with two losses from the first two games. However, they will hope things get better before Maketa leaves.