The home team, who’d posted 203/4, won by just 11 runs, surviving an almighty scare courtesy of a glorious bloody minded one man assault from Smuts, who scored 121 off only 60 balls. He took his team from 56/5 at the end of the power play and dragged them to the final over, when they needed just 18 to win. He hit the first ball of that last over for six, but in pursuit of another, was caught on the midwicket boundary.
Smuts admitted his young side – the majority of whom played their first T20 franchise matches in the competition – got stage fright.
“We played here the other night and there were only a few hundred people, and when we play group games we don’t get 10 000 people coming,” said Smuts.
There was only about half of that at the ‘Bullring’ for the final, but they did create a good atmosphere and when combined with the magnitude of the occasion, it obviously proved to be intimidating for many of the younger players. The Warriors were ragged in the field, while the absence of Lutho Sipamla hurt as well, with his replacement Sithembile Langa, conceding 69 runs in four overs, the worst figures in a domestic T20 match.
“My first final was a nightmare, I was as nervous as all hell,” said Smuts. “These are the games you want to play, you learn so much about who you are and how you handle high pressure situations. The young players really grew from the start of the tournament to the end, and it will be really exciting for them next season to see where they go.”
Next season, if Cricket South Africa (CSA) has its way, will be the last one that features the current six-team franchise system. From 2020/21 CSA wants to switch to a 12-team provincial system as part of wide ranging austerity measures for the cash-strapped federation. Those changes are being challenged by the country’s players, through their union, the SA Cricketer Association, which at the weekend threatened to go to court to force CSA to reveal the information it is using as the basis for the changes it wants to make.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but this (T20 Challenge) has always been an outstanding tournament, it has had some great finals,” said Smuts. “If next season is the last season, hopefully the Warriors do something special with the group that we have.”