• Twin thrillers outdo damp squib

    The second triple-header of the 2014 Ram Slam T20 Challenge, an 11-hour feast of cricket between all six of South Africa’s domestic franchises at Kingsmead, offered up two thrilling final-over finishes and then one embarrassing performance from the home side in front of some 5000-odd spectators.

    In a frustrating end to the day the Dolphins were saved from defeat against the Knights when the rain gods disobeyed the forecasters and intermittent downpours meant not a ball was bowled after the innings break of the final match of the day. That each side took two points from a match where the Knights were due five points and the Dolphins nil, after being bowled out for a record-low 82, was a Houdini-type escape that keeps the Dolphins in the top four of a league where only the top three sides have a chance to make the final – and also to win themselves a ticket to the lucrative Champions League. The Dolphins still have to win their last four matches to make the cut.

    Two weeks after the first triple-header that kicked off the tournament at the Wanderers, and that was also plagued by non-bikini-wearing weather, we are just over half way through what is proving to be an interesting and entertaining competition. Wins on Sunday for the Cobras (over the Titans) and the Lions (over the Warriors) kept those sides in third and first place on the table respectively. The Lions have won all five of their matches.

    The West Indians playing in the league – five of the six teams have one as their allotted overseas professional – continue to show their strength and the weakness of the standard of the competition. Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo did not play on Sunday because of injuries but Kieron Pollard (2/28 and 56 not out) and Andre Russel (4/18) continued to outclass the local talent. Gayle has scored two fifties and an unbeaten hundred in his three games and is likely to be back from his back injury for the Lions’ next game. Whilst they remain top of the table, however, they might let him rest.

    Three matches is a lot to play in one day and even the five journalists in the press box were unable to keep focused on the play right the way through. Some cricket might have been played with a dustbin as the wickets in the back of the box and one particularly idle scribe may even have had a nap under his desk. A different delicious curry was served during each match.

    Pollard’s having a word with the batsman Qaasim Adams in the middle of being spanked for 21 runs in an over was a highlight of the first match. Especially as Adams whacked the next ball for six. Pollard had the last laugh, though, as the Titans needed five runs from four balls to win and he didn’t concede another run.

    The second game seemed to move along in slow motion after some great pace bowling from the Lions restricted the Warriors to a sub-par 126 for 7. A lowlight of that game was when a dolly of a one-handed catch (if there is such a thing) struck by Temba Bavuma (37* off 21 balls) onto the grass bank at the North end went in and out of the hand of a man who would likely have wished that he had had one beer fewer during the course of the afternoon. Two eligible fans have so far managed the one-handed feat and at the end of the tournament one million rand will be shared between those who have managed a one-handed catch. It doesn’t make things easier that when a ball is struck to the crowd, up to 20 people all scramble for it at once.

    Bavuma’s innings was excellent. Neil McKenzie had been playing it cool and his side made hard work of what should have been a straightforward chase when the flashy batsman came in and won his side the match. Wristy, lusty blows off one knee and elaborate follow throughs are a delight to watch and one can’t quite compare him to Brian Lara but he has a flashy style that has traditionally been the reserve of Calypso cricketers.

    The action continues on Friday and the next and final triple header takes place in Bloemfontein on 30 November. Games are being televised internationally and the organisers are putting on a good show.

    By Nick Sadleir

    Photo: Backpagepix