• The Saints go marching in

    St Stithians College were crowned national champions of the Coca-Cola Schools T20 Challenge when they defeated Paarl Gimnasium by eight runs in the final on March 20.

    The seventh edition of the National Schools T20 Tournament saw some 665 schools participate in the competition that started back in October 2015. Through the various regional and provincial finals, each of South Africa’s six cricket franchises determined their champions through a knockout format. The National Finals took place in Potchefstroom from 18-20 March, culminating in the final at Senwes Park.

    The six teams that reached the finals were Paarl Gimnasium (Cobras), Kearsney College (Dolphins), Grey College (Knights), St Stithians College (Lions), Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Titans) and Grey High School (Warriors).
    The format of the National Finals saw each of the six teams play each other in a round-robin format, with the top two teams advancing to the final.

    Defending champions Menlopark Hoërskool were eliminated in the Northerns regional knockouts, with Affies replacing them as the Titans representatives. 2016 was Affies’ first appearance at the National Finals along with Paarl Gimnasium and Kearsney College. St Stithians were the only school present at the 2016 event with a title to their name, having won the spectacle in 2014.

    For several years now, St Stithians have been considered to be the top 1st XI in the country, winning the overwhelming majority of their matches across all formats. They have contributed many players to the Gauteng U19 team which, for the past three years, have won the Coca-Cola Khaya Majola Cricket Week and have produced three SA Schools cricketers in that time. Added to that, their alumni in Kagiso Rabada and Grant Elliott have been dominating headlines in world cricket. It is fair to say that it has been a golden run for St Stithians cricket.

    Heading into the 2016 event, Saints were touted as the favourites courtesy of their superb record this season as well as having Wiaan Mulder and Wandile Makwetu in their ranks. Both players featured at the recent U19 Cricket World Cup, with Mulder leading the team’s wicket charts with 11 sticks and Makwetu scoring a blitzkrieg unbeaten 50 in the 11th place playoff match against New Zealand.

    The Johannesburg lads lived up to expectations from the outset beating Grey High by four wickets and then beating Kearsney College by 88 runs on the opening day. Mulder was the standout in both matches taking 5-13 and scoring 37 against Grey, before smashing five maximums en route to a 28-ball 59 against Kearsney.

    Saints stuttered somewhat on the second morning, going down by seven wickets to Grey College in their third match of the tournament. It was Grey’s first win over Saints in three attempts in 2016, with Christoffel Klijnhans contributing heavily with the run out of the danger man Mulder together with an unbeaten 45. Saints then bounced back emphatically in the afternoon session to thrash Affies by nine wickets with six overs to spare. Mulder again the pivotal figure taking 3-20 and scoring 51 not out. He was aided by Curtis Campher (3-16) and opening batsman Joshua Richards (51 not out) who registered his second fifty of the weekend.

    Going into the final day, Saints were top of the log with 14 points, followed by Paarl Gim with 13. Grey College (12 points) were to play Affies (nine points) in what was effectively a knockout match for both. An all-round performance from skipper Ruan de Swardt (42 and 2-23) helped Affies secure the four points to move level with Gim on 13. Despite Saint’s narrow 13-run win over Gim, it was the cruel fate of net run rate that knocked AB de Villiers’ alma mater out of the tournament, as Paarl Gimnasium and St Stithians did battle in the final.

    With the morning round-robin match serving as a nice preview of what was to come, Saints were asked to bat first by Gim. Mulder’s excellent form continued as he and fellow SA U19 star Makwetu plundered the Gim bowling to post 152-3. Mulder finished on 82 off 60 with Makwetu notching up 61 off 55 atop the order. The Gim reply was led by skipper Andre Hanekom who scored relatively freely, however the loss of regular wickets at the other end stifled the chase. Hanekom’s 57-ball 75 was in vein as Saints claimed the prestigious title by eight runs, with JP Bloem defending 17 off the final over.

    It was a remarkable feat for Saints as they become only the second school to lift the title twice after Menlopark did so in 2010 and 2015. Unsurprisingly, Mulder was named Player of the Tournament, finishing as the leading wicket taker (13) and run scorer (275).

    Stats and results

    Compiled by Warwick Austin

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