Race tight for Cobras and Warriors
The Warriors and Cape Cobras remain in a tight race for the South African first-class title with just 0.18 of a point separating them at the top of the table.
Warriors franchise kept themselves within touching distance of the table-topping Cobras with a 10-wicket win over the Knights in Bloemfontein while the Cobras were defeated for a second successive week. A thriller in Cape Town saw them lose by 15 runs to the Dolphins. The other team in contention for the title, the Lions, will take their contest against the Titans into a fourth day with bad weather in Johannesburg threatening to wash out the fixture.
Interestingly, both today's results saw a bowler from South Africa's most recent emerging squad take eight wickets in an innings. Kyle Abbott did it for the Dolphins to take his match haul to 12 while Andrew Birch was the Warriors destroyer. There was only one century scored across the matches, Rillee Rossouw's 100 in the Knights losing cause.
Rossouw's innings was much needed, after the Knights slumped to 21 for 3, having opted to bat first against the Warriors. Gurshwin Rabie took two of three early wickets to fall, including that of Test batsman Dean Elgar, who made 4. Rabie returned to remove Ryan Bailey and Obus Pienaar even as the Knights recovery had barely got underway.
Lower-order partnerships of 58 for the eighth wickets and 64 for the ninth, largely thanks to Dillon du Preez's aggressive 88 saw the Knights bowled out for a fairly competitive 268. A dream start saw the Knights reduce the Warriors to 36 for 2 but contributions from Arno Jacobs (40), Ashwell Prince (37) and Vuyisa Makhapela (35) followed by the only half-century of the Warriors innings, 50 from Simon Harmer helped them take a slender 13-run lead.
Birch made it count for much more as he sliced through the Knights in the second innings. He singlehandedly reduced them to 22 for 4 before Harmer took the fifth wicket. Elgar's 34 was the top-score and one off just three that went into double figures. The Knights were skittled for 106 and the Warriors required 94 runs to win.
They polished off the target inside 14 overs to show the surface was no demon. Michael Price was unbeaten on 48 while Davy Jacobs finished 44 not out in one-day fashion, off 35 balls. The victory puts the Warriors on 92 points and in firm contention to win their maiden first-class trophy since the franchise system started in 2004-05.
The Cobras have been frequent recipients of the title and would have thought they could open a gap against the chasing pack when they bowled the Dolphins out for 174. Divan van Wyk's 92 was the only score of substance as the Dolphins registered seven single figure scores. Beuran Hendricks' five-for was the main protagonist in the Dolphins demise but they responded well to their below-par performance.
Andrew Puttick was caught behind with the score on 21 but Alistair Gray and Stiaan van Zyl's 51-run second wicket stand seemed to steady the Cobras. When van Zyl was dismissed with the score on 112, the Dolphins bowlers sensed an opening. They hunted as a pack and took seven wickets for 94 runs to ensure the Cobras lead was only 32 runs.
The Dolphins began woefully in the second innings. At 57 for 5 it seemed they had learnt nothing from their first knock but Jonathan Vandiar's 78 combined with three scores in the twenties from the lower order gave them a fighting chance. The Cobras were set 183 to win, a chase they would have fancied.
Abbott had other ideas, though. He and his new-ball partner, Mthokozisi Shezi, got rid of the Cobras openers but then van Zyl and Justin Ontong put on 55 for the third wicket. At 71 for 2, the Cobras were well set. But Abbott took three quick wickets, including two in the same over, to put the Dolphins back in the frame with the Cobras on 82 for 5.
Justin Kemp scored 29, Johann Louw 16 and Dane Piedt 20 to push the Cobras ever closer but all of them failed to take their side over the line. When the ninth wicket fell, the Cobras needed 17 runs to win but Abbott plucked the last man four balls later to cap off a thrilling win for the Dolphins.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent