The Sunfoil Series is set for a dramatic conclusion next weekend following a gripping afternoon in the penultimate round of matches on Sunday, which saw the Warriors remain top of the competition’s log by just one point.
The Eastern Cape franchise played out a rousing draw against the defending champions the Knights in East London on Sunday with time and overs running out, with the hosts just eight runs short of victory, while the Knights still needed two wickets to win.
The dramatic outcome came despite the whole of Friday’s play being washed out, and was set up by the Knights’ lunchtime declaration, which left the Warriors with a target of 256 in a minimum of 62 overs.
It was a pursuit that the Warriors started aggressively, racing to 80 after 16 overs before Gihahn Cloete became the first of Werner Coetsee’s six wickets.
A partnership of 73 followed for the second wicket between Ed Moore and Warriors skipper JJ Smuts, again at a reasonably good rate, with Moore eventually falling for 73 off 101 balls, having hit 12 fours and a six.
Moore’s wicket was the start of an awful collapse for the home team, engineered by the wily Coetsee as they lost six for 34 in 14 overs, giving the Knights hope of victory.
Amongst those six wickets was Smuts, bowled by Duanne Olivier for 41.
It left Simon Harmer and Sisanda Magala battling with whether to keep chasing the target or just keep the Knights out, and for a while, it seemed like they were choosing the latter.
A couple of boundaries by both batsmen against a tiring Coetsee saw the door open once again for the Warriors.
But Coetsee still had enough energy to induce a mistake from Magala (18), taking a catch off his own bowling to end a gutsy 49-run partnership for the eighth wicket.
Harmer, who finished not out on 35, and Tladi Bokako saw out the remaining 3.2 overs, coming within touching distance of a win that would have given the Warriors some breathing room ahead of their last match of the season in Durban next week against the Dolphins.
Coetsee finished with 6/71 from 24 overs.
The KwaZulu-Natal franchise had pressed hard throughout the afternoon at the Wanderers to try and put themselves back in contention in the competition as they tried to chase 285 set by the Highveld Lions in 50 overs.
A 74-run opening stand between Man-of-the-Match Dane Vilas and Sarel Erwee was the perfect start, and they remained comfortably ahead of the required run rate even as they started losing wickets regularly.
Erwee scored 50 off 47 balls, hitting a six and half-a-dozen fours, while Vilas – a bit more sedate than in the first innings when he made a fine century – scored 23.
DRAWN | The two teams shake hands as the #SunfoilSeries clash between the @WorldSportsBet Cape Cobras and @Titans_Cricket ends in a draw in the second session of Day 4.— COBRAS CRICKET (@CobrasCricket) March 18, 2018
TTN: 435/9d & 133/3
COB: 460#COBvTTN #SpiritedCricket pic.twitter.com/sKFTZgYRNa
Perhaps influenced by a storm that was rapidly closing in, the Dolphins panicked and once they lost Vaughn van Jaarsveld for a bruising 59 (53 balls, 3x4, 2x6), they actually opened the door for an unlikely Lions win.
That however was snuffed out by the storm, which ended proceedings at 5pm with the Dolphins 199/7.
The Lions’ prospects in this competition have long ended, and the odds on the Dolphins winning it have lengthened too, for they will have to pull off a huge win at Kingsmead next week.
The draw in East London also ensured that the Cape Cobras and Titans remain very much in with a chance of annexing the four-day title, despite playing to a dreary draw in Paarl.
Bat dominated ball at Boland Park – the Titans scoring 435/9 declared in their first innings and the Cobras 460 in theirs – but such was the slow rate of scoring that neither side could position themselves for victory.
However, with just 6.42 points separating the Warriors in first from the Titans in fourth, it remains very much all to play for in the final round of the competition that starts on Thursday.
The Titans will host the third-placed Knights at SuperSport Park, while the Cobras travel to Potchefstroom to play the Lions.