A perfectly constructed half century from Rilee Rossouw, guided the Free State Knights to a comfortable win against the Titans in the opening match of Pool B in Cricket SA’s T20 Knock Out competition in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.
Rossouw showed all the experience gained from traversing the globe, playing in various T20 Leagues to dominate the Knights’ run chase. Whether it was nudging the ball into gaps for singles, running hard between wickets to turn ones into twos, hitting the ball into space on a vast outfield, sweeping against the spinners, driving through and over the off-side, or rolling onto his back and flicking a medium pacer over the wicket-keeper’s head, Rossouw’s was an innings great creativity and high-class control.
The Titans couldn’t apply much pressure. They were well short of a truly competitive total, owing to a poorly constructed innings, in which they struggled against the variety of the Knights’ bowlers, good captaincy from Pite van Biljon but also their own meekness, particularly at the top of the order.
Rossouw was anything but meek. His decision to give up his international career with Proteas in 2016 and sign a Kolpak contract at Hampshire caused plenty of controversy. He then hopped around the world playing in T20 Leagues in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean amongst others, building up a solid resume.
Always a flamboyant batsmen, what his stops in those many leagues taught him is control and balance, which were all to the fore on Tuesday in a fine innings of 73 not out, which came off 51 balls and included seven fours and one six.
With Kolpak no more, Rossouw is available for international selection, and if he continues to bat with the kind of form he showed on Tuesday, he’ll very much be in the national selectors’ thinking, especially given that there are two more T20 World Cups in the next three years along with the 50-over showpiece in India in two years time.
The Titans will need to re-think the composition of their starting XI and particularly the top order. They don't have the kind of power hitters the Knights have at their disposal. However their top three, which includes Proteas Test captain Dean Elgar, don’t have the means to take advantage of the fielding restrictions in the first six overs and it immediately had them on the backfoot on Tuesday. Elgar scored 41 off 38 balls, but the rest of the top four all scored their runs at a strike rate well below 100.
It required a lively 26 not out off 14 balls from Sibonelo Makhanya to get them to the 140-mark, but that total was at least 20 runs short of making the Knights worry.
The home team’s bowlers deserve credit for how they varied pace with Migael Pretorius, fresh off a stint in the Caribbean Premier League, picking up 3/21 while Mbulelo Budaza, with 2/34 and Gerald Coetzee with 1/32 provided excellent support.
Pretorius got a lot of help with one of his dismissals with Aya Gqamane, out hit wicket off a wide in 19th over as, standing deep in his crease, he tried to cut a delivery and instead demolished his off-stump, hitting it so hard that he chipped his own bat.
Multiply Titans 143/8 (Dean Elgar 41, Sibonelo Makhanya 26, Migael Pretorius 3/21, Mbulelo Budaza 2/34)
ITEC Knights 147/4 (Rilee Rossouw 73, Farhaan Behardien 23, Aaron Phangiso 1/23, Okuhle Cele 1/25)
Knights won by 6 wickets,