Lions players celebrate with trophy after winning the 2019 CSA T20 Challenge Final against the Warriors. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Bizhub Highveld Lions 203/4

Warriors 192

Lions won by 11 runs

The final of the tournament Cricket South Africa wanted to cancel was lit up by two of the best T20 innings ever played in this country, and will go down as one of the best T20 matches ever played in this country.

While Temba Bavuma’s innings was one that must now end any debate about his ability as a limited overs batsmen, Jon-Jon Smuts produced an innings of extraordinary bloody minded brutality, that took the match to its final over, with the Warriors in with a realistic chance on winning.

Smuts’s only ally was Onke Nyaku, with whom he shared a partnership of 73 for the sixth wicket, otherwise this was a loan hand played in pursuit of a hefty target. The Warriors needed 34 off the last two overs, but an awful 19th over by the on-loan Lizaad Williams, went for 16, meaning 18 were needed off the last over bowled by Migael Pretorius.

Smut, smashed the first ball over long-on for six, but couldn’t repeat that outcome off the next delivery, holding out to Nono Pongolo at midwicket, who had to keep his wits about him when he bumped into Reeza Hendricks, in the process. Having held the ball Pongolo set off on a mini-lap that took him from in front of the Memorial Stand to Centenary Stand where a boisterous group of Lions fans were gathered.

Smuts finished on 121 off only 60 balls, hitting 11 fours and seven sixes, a mighty effort that will long be remembered.

His teammates will bemoan their failure to provide him with proper support. Nyaku’s 27 was the next highest score. The top and middle order fell to pieces against the guile of Bjorn Fortuin, whose left arm spin brought him 4/27 and saw him finish as the leadfing wicket-taker in the competition with 15.

Bavuma must have thought he’d won the game for his side following his own amazing performance earlier in the afternoon. The Lions captain has had a very good competition, saving his two best performances with the semi-final, where he scored a half-century and then Sunday’s effort of 104, which came off only 63 balls and included 11 fours and and two sixes. Away from the glare of the international spotlight, Bavuma has been free to explore different aspects of his batting. He’s shown an aggressive part of his batting that will stand him in good stead for his first class game too, but will almost certainly also see him come into contention for selection in the limited overs formats for the Proteas after the World Cup.

Where the Warriors top order failed to build partnerships, the Lions prospered with Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen (73, 41b, 3x4, 5x6) adding a national record 165-run partnership for the third wicket. It was also the fourth highest partnership for that wicket in the T20 format anywhere in the world.

The Warriors badly missed the injured Lutho Sipamla, with his replacement Sithembile Langa conceding 69 runs in four overs - the worst figures in South African T20 cricket history.

Victory meant the Lions also ended as the most successful franchise in South Africa this season, with the T20 Challenge trophy going alongside the Four-Day Challenge title they won in January.