The Warriors finally slayed the ‘evil blue giant,’ qualifying for the Momentum One-Day Cup final with a dominant victory over the defending champions at SuperSport Park on Tuesday evening.
When Jon-Jon Smuts tucked the winning single off his legs, there were still 91 balls left, and the Warriors could finally celebrate a win over the Titans, who in recent seasons have become their nemesis.
The Warriors had lost three knockout matches to the Titans in the last two seasons - including the final of both the One-Day Cup and the T20 Challenge.
That, however was forgotten on Tuesday, as the players 'high-fived' and hugged each other and could start making preparations for the final.
The visitors from the Eastern Cape, took control of the match from the moment veteran seamer Andrew Birch hung onto a stunning catch off his own bowling to dismiss left-hand opener Tony de Zorzi in the 11th over.
Jon-Jon Smuts, having predictably chosen to bowl after winning the toss, might have been a bit concerned by the start that De Zorzi and Henry Davids had given the home side, with De Zorzi in particular, playing elegantly through the leg-side.
But that wicket, with Birch diving forward as he adjusted out of his ‘delivery’ changed the course of the innings and ultimately the match. While eight Titans batsmen got into double figures, just one, Farhaan Behardien, was able to produce an innings of substance.
Everyone appeared to struggle with the pace of the surface, which was a touch slower than is normal for SuperSport Park, but that will not stand as an excuse for a team that has been dominant throughout the season.
There are a number of experienced heads in the Titans team - which Tuesday included Dean Elgar, fresh off his heroic innings against India at the Wanderers last Saturday - and one of those needed to provide Behardien with better support.
The Warriors bowled with good discipline maintaining relatively straight lines, while their lengths were just back of what is normally considered a good length, but which owing to the pace of the pitch made scoring hard.
Warriors’ wicket-keeper Clyde Fortuin took five catches - four of which were batsmen trying to run the ball to third man.
Fortuin’s fifth catch was off a top edge from Behardien who was trying to force the pace at the back end of the Titans innings.
It had been a very clever innings from Behardien, who following the loss of the experienced top and middle order, managed to build a partnership for the ninth wicket with Junior Dala that gave the Titans a total with some meat on it.
That stand of 44 - a new record for the Titans - saw them go passed 200 with Dala, playing his role perfectly and blocking balls, while Behardien sought out the boundaries. Behardien was eventually dismissed for 57 (67b, 4x4, 1x6).
Anrich Nortje was the most successful of the Warriors bowlers picking up 3/45, but Smuts’ 1/45 and Birch’s 1/41, were vital contributions as the Titans’s experienced batting line-up was kept in check.
Lesiba Ngoepe (69, 64b, 6x4, 2x6) and the in-form Gihahn Cloete (56, 50b, 7x4, 1x6) put on 115 for the first wicket in just 17.2 overs to settle any nerves in the visiting dressing room.
There was some thrilling stroke-play from the pair, as they ensured any momentum the Titans may have taken from the Behardien’s efforts with the bat were quickly snuffed out.
Although they lost their wickets close to each other, Smuts, who’s felt the pain of defeat often against the Titans, ensured he left Centurion with a smile, scoring a bruising 74 off only 60 balls, striking 11 fours and a terrific lofted six over long-on to see his side home.
The Warriors will await the outcome of the second semi-final in Cape Town on Wednesday between the Cape Cobras and the KZN Dolphins. The victor in that match will host the final on Friday.