The final round of fixtures in the RamSlam T20 Challenge looked as if they would have much of their drama sucked out by events on Friday night.
The Cape Cobras hung on against the Titans. Then, nervelessly, the Dolphins roused themselves in Bloemfontein to leap into third place.
But, just as the tournament jigsaw seemed to be finally falling into place, the Highveld Lions flipped the script and lost, leaving the back-door open for the Warriors and Knights. The bottom two sides both have to win today to have any chance, but that simplicity of task often gives players the freedom to play without fear.
Win, or bust.
The Warriors held their nerve in Potchefstroom to outlast the Lions, but they have a tough task today when they host the resurgence from the Cape. The Cobras are the most in-form side in the competition, emphasising just how violently things can change in the shortest, craziest format of the game.
A fortnight ago, Ashwell Prince’s men couldn’t buy a run, never mind a win. They were so far behind the eight-ball, some wondered if they would even win a game.
And yet, if they beat the Warriors in East London, they will host a semi-final at Newlands. What’s more, the Cobras will not be scared of anyone in their way anymore.
That is the confidence that comes with a run of victories, and in defeating the supposedly untouchable Titans. They have learnt how to win again, and it is a lesson they have held onto.
The men from Pretoria, packed with more Proteas than they can pick at once, would have been stung by defeat in Cape Town, even if it doesn’t change their destiny. They bolted out of the blocks so emphatically that they were in the semis before most teams realised it was even a race.
But heading into knockout week, the Titans will want to put together a performance against the Dolphins. The men from Durban will simply be after a full game on home soil. It is a phenomenon yet to be experienced at Kingsmead, thanks to a weather pattern so freakish that one must wonder if the cricketing gods are playing a sick joke.
The Dolphins have to hope that the Warriors pip the Cobras, and then a superior net run-rate will give Grant Morgan’s men a chance for an unlikely home semi-final. That is, of course, if they can beat the Titans in broad daylight.
More than the result, perhaps, the Dolphins will just want to have another full game to iron out the creases in their game. Certain, crucial elements are not as sharp as they have to be, and they only have one more game to address that.
The third game today sees the Lions play the Knights, and Geoff Toyana’s infuriating men are still searching for some sort of consistency. When they are good, with bat or ball, they look nigh on unplayable, as Kagiso Rabada floats in with a new ball and Reeza Hendricks caresses drives to the cover fence.
But when they are bad, they are almost unrecognisable. They have displayed a fragility when it comes to closing out games, and that Achilles heel has been identified by their foes.
Perhaps they, too, will be galvanised by the prospect of doom if they fail to get up in their final fixture.
On top of all of this, the temperamental weather can throw a real spanner in the works.
As the Dolphins can wearily attest, those two points you get for a washout have their uses, but it would be a terrific shame if Mother Nature intervened on what ought to be a dramatic afternoon today.
When the dust eventually settles, the Titans will know who they are hosting on Wednesday night, and the rest of the franchises would have filled in their own blanks.
Indeed, it promises to be a fascinating climax to what has been quite the cricketing crescendo.
P W L NR Pts NRR
Titans 9 6 1 2 32 2.032
Cobras 9 5 3 1 22 0.325
Dolphins 9 2 2 5 18 0.263
Warriors 9 3 5 1 14 0.970
Lions 9 2 4 3 14 0.389
Knights 9 2 5 2 12 0.322
Today’s fixtures (all 2.30pm starts): Dolphins v Titans; Lions v Knights; Warriors v Cobras