DURBAN – The resumption of the Sunfoil Series campaign on Thursday saw Theunis de Bruyn make a big statement in Bloemfontein, a pile of wickets in East London and a tenacious scrap in Benoni as the chase for the final trophy on offer this season enters the home straight.
At Willowmoore Park, the table-topping Titans were confronted by a resilient Cape Cobras outfit, who reached 272/5 at stumps, thanks to a third ton of the season from Pieter Malan.
The opener carried his bat through the first day, mixing patience with occasional spurts of aggression, to help the Cape outfit to a sizeable total.
Malan, who reached his hundred off 219 balls just before stumps, also shared a stand of 104 for third wicket with former Proteas batsman Stiaan van Zyl.
The left-hander chipped in with a fluent 54 off just 76 balls before he skied Eldred Hawken, and debutant Rivaldo Moonsamy clung on to the catch.
Hawken was the pick of the home attack as he ended with figures of 3/43 in his 16 overs.
He received good support from the reliable Malusi Siboto, who finished the first day with 2/57.
MAN OF THE MOMENT |When you score a century, you get to wear a sombrero in the changeroom at the end of the day. Well batted, @pieterm87 #SpiritedCricket #SunfoilSeries #TTNvCOB pic.twitter.com/y6cT235wZv
In Bloemfontein, the Knights won the toss and chose to bat first against the Dolphins. The decision to bat was vindicated by the man who took it, as skipper De Bruyn racked up 190 off just 225 balls.
The young De Bruyn has been on the fringes of the South African Test side, and was considered unlucky not to play the third Test against India, when an extra batsman may have been the difference on a sporting wicket.
De Bruyn took out those frustrations on the Durbanites as he propelled the Knights to a cavernous 400/6 at the end of the first day.
Things had started well for the Dolphins, as Kerwin Mungroo’s first ball – and the seventh of the match – had Grant Mokeona sharply held by Sibonelo Makhanya.
That only brought De Bruyn to the crease, and he and Luthando Mnyanda (74) blunted the visiting enthusiasm with a magnificent stand of 198 for the second wicket.
De Bruyn would have been disappointed to fall with a double century in sight, as he was trapped in front by the left-arm spin of Senuran Muthusamy.
Pite van Biljon (40) and Rudi Second (36 not out) kept the momentum going for the defending champions, who ended the first day well on top.
For the Dolphins, skipper Keshav Maharaj bowled a marathon 33 overs for a return of 2/103, and he is bound to bowl a lot more over the next three days.
In East London, meanwhile, 13 wickets tumbled on the first day as the Lions rolled out the Warriors for 193.
Former Proteas spinner Aaron Phangiso went against the script, as spin took charge on the first morning.
Phangiso registered figures of 5/56 as his left-arm spin gave the Lions a massive lift after a tough limited-overs campaign this season.
Innings: Aaron Phangiso's back-to-back wickets does it!
He along with Wiaan Mulder share eight wickets as the #LionsCharge dismiss the @WarriorsCrickEC for 193 runs. Phangiso with figures of 5/56 👏 #SunfoilSeries pic.twitter.com/EfdwkB5sB0
Phangiso bowled a third of the 61.5 overs that the visitors delivered as he tore through the Warriors batting card.
Only Colin Ackermann (55) and Yaseen Vallie (36) held up the Phangiso show, as the joint Momentum One-Day Cup holders made a slow start to the resumption of red-ball cricket.
The Lions would have also taken heart from the form of Wiaan Mulder, as the young all-rounder chipped in with three wickets.
In response, the Lions had made their way to 77 at the close, though they had also lost three batsmen, including skipper Stephen Cook for 10.
At the crease on day two will be Rassie van der Dussen (26) and Nicky van den Bergh, who is yet to score.
Omphile Ramela top-scored with 31 from 77 balls before getting caught behind off spinner Simon Harmer minutes before the close of play.
With the Lions trailing by 116 runs, the match at Buffalo Park looks headed for a hasty conclusion.
Titans v Cape Cobras (Benoni)
Cobras 272/5 (P Malan 103 not out, E Hawken 3/43)
Knights v Dolphins (Bloemfontein)
Knights 400/6 (T de Bruyn 190, T Mnyanda 74)
Warriors v Lions (East London)
Warriors 193 all out (C Ackermann 55, A Phangiso 5/56, W Mulder 3/42)
Lions trail by 116 runs