Asif Ali's 33-ball 80 stuns Durban Heat
Cape Town Blitz 158 for 7 (Asif Ali 80, Maharaj 3-24) beat Durban Heat 157 for 5 (Zondo 49*, Albie 45, Nortje 4-32) by three wickets
Asif Ali produced a performance for the ages, shellacking a 33-ball 80, as Cape Town Blitz turned the tables on Durban Heat in a stunning chase at Kingsmead. This innings was a clinic, really, embodying all the attributes that define T20 batting: flair, skill, daring, power, and creativity of the highest order.
Asif was the life jacket Blitz needed, after they had been reduced to 83 for 5 by Keshav Maharaj's crafty left-arm spin; by the time he was finished, Asif had slashed the required rate from a hefty 12.40 to a run a ball. An excellent 19th over by Marchant de Lange left Heat clinging on to a tiny ray of hope, but it was dashed when Kyle Abbott overpitched the first ball of the 20th and Malusi Siboto crunched a cover drive to all but seal the game.
That result looked highly unlikely when Blitz were 51 for 3 in the ninth over. The required rate was already touching 10 and this was a seaming surface. Conditions were overcast. The bounce could be disconcerting. And in addition to all that support for the faster bowlers, Maharaj had already shown that if a spinner could find the ideal pace, he could get the ball to stop on the batsman and force errors.
Asif dealt with his first two balls, from Maharaj, with caution, getting a feel for the surface. And then, he got down to business. The manner of his progression left Heat tearing their hair apart. It didn't matter what the bowlers did; Asif had an answer ready. Slide it into leg: sweep; take it away outside off: reverse sweep; fire it in straight: step out and smack.
Even Maharaj, Heat's best bowler, was not spared. He had 3 for 13 in three overs when he came back in the 15th and Asif slapped him for a four and six off his first two balls. Those hits marked the beginning of a dramatic turnaround as Blitz pillaged 52 runs in three overs. And all of those, barring a wide, came off Asif's bat.
The return of a mild drizzle worsened things for an under-fire Heat attack, as they began missing their mark. A sequence of six, four and six to start off the 16th over gave Asif his fifty off 21 balls and Heat were on the backfoot for the first time in the chase.
The brutality of it all meant Heat had to hold on to any chance that came their way. That opportunity presented itself twice in the 17th over and they let both slip.
Having already cracked a brace of fours, Asif swung a de Lange short ball across the line and miscued it to deep midwicket. Maharaj moved sharply towards the ball and lined himself behind it well, but in trying to catch it off over his head, he lost balance and fell over even as the ball trickled away to the boundary. Three deliveries later, Temba Bavuma shelled Asif, running back from mid-off. It really was a sign that on this day Asif couldn't do any wrong.
Like Blitz, Heat struggled through the early phases of their innings. Anrich Nortje, the left-arm fast bowler, made use of the helpful conditions to shock the batsmen with pace. He struck three times in the eighth over as Morne van Wyk, Bavuma and Sarel Erwee all lost their stumps. Hashim Amla fared no better, trapped lbw by one that straightened, and Heat were in the middle of a full-blown collapse.
Brought together at 48 for 4, Khaya Zondo and Albie Morkel began the tedious recovery, consolidating through the middle overs and finding timely boundaries. Dale Steyn's waning powers as a white-ball bowler came to prominence again as he was taken apart for three successive fours in the 13th over and finished with 0 for 45. Together, Zondo and Morkel put on 71 in 53 balls, and struck five fours and as many sixes between them. But, as Asif would demonstrate later, it just wasn't savage enough.
Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo