Stephen Cook scored his fifth hundred of the Sunfoil Series this season and soared to the top of the run-scorers list to all but seal the title for the Highveld Lions.
His unbeaten 143 off 261 balls (11×4) was the foundation of the Lions’ second innings total of 246 for two, which gave the front-runners a lead of 361 going into the final day against the Dolphins at Kingsmead on Saturday.
A draw would give the Lions a lead of more than 19 points; a win would have them celebrating their first trophy in 15 years. It would be well deserved, after winning five of their nine games and drawing two. Captain Cook has led from the front, amassing 889 runs at an average of 74 a match.
The Dolphins must have fancied their chances when they put the Lions in to bat on the first day and had them staggering at 75-3. But Temba Bavuma (153) and Thami Tsolekile (61) put together a stand of 146 to right the wrongs and Chris Morris weighed in with 57 to present the Dolphins with a formidable target of 395.
Dwaine Pretorius’s return of 5-64 was instrumental in restricting the hosts to just 280, leaving them 115 in arrears.
Once Cook and Rassie van der Dussen (78) had put on 177 for the first wicket, the game was safe.
Warriors v Knights, East London
Pite van Biljon’s unbeaten 102 at Buffalo Park set the Chevrolet Knights up for a final-day victory push over the Chevrolet Warriors in a mid-table battle.
With Werner Coetsee contributing a swift 55, the Knights were able to declare on 253 for seven and set the Warriors 332 to win, but their hopes of making inroads were thwarted when conditions deteriorated during the innings break and stumps were called.
The visitors should nevertheless fancy their chances of grabbing the 10 wickets if a full day’s play is possible on Sunday, given the rate at which wickets have fallen over the first three days.
The Knights began the third day on six for one, a lead of 84, but s slumped to 45 for four. But Van Biljon took control, putting on 76 for the fifth wicket with Rudi Second (40) and then 109 for the seventh wicket with Coetsee in just 17 overs.
Second and Michael Erlank both fell to Birch (5 for 43) in the space of three balls to give the seamer his 11th first-class five-for.
Titans v Cape Cobras, Benoni
An unbeaten 159 from Dean Elgar, well supported by Henry Davids (52), Theunis de Bruyn (54) and a rain shower frustrated the Cape Cobras’ hopes of securing their second win in this series.
Having batted themselves into a commanding position over most of the first two days, accumulating 484, the Cobras were desperate for early wickets on Saturday. But Elgar gave away nothing, and even took the attack to the Cobras, scoring freely to the boundaries. He took just 132 balls to reach his 23rd first-class hundred.
The Titans ended the day on 282 for two, still 202 in arrears, but it would take a devastating spell of penetrative bowling by the Cobras to escape with a win, and on Saturday’s evidence, that is unlikely.
The Cobras used no fewer than eight bowlers in their attempts to find the breakthroughs, but Robin Peterson was the only wicket-taker on the day as he had Davids caught behind by wicketkeeper Dane Vilas.
That ended a 173-run stand for the second wicket between Elgar and Davids, but the Cobras’ frustrations continued as Elgar went on to add an unbroken 93 with De Bruyn.