van der Merwe lifts Titans to thrilling win in huge chase
Titans 300 for 7 (van der Merwe 93, du Plessis 61, O'Reilly 3-43) beat Lions 299 for 8 (Vandiar 130, de Bruyn 53*, du Plessis 3-55) by three wickets
The Titans chased the third-highest target of the MTN40 to beat the Lions by three wickets in the first leg of their semi-final in Centurion. They successfully went in search of 300, finishing with eight balls to spare, thanks to a Roelof van der Merwe assault. That inflicted a fourth consecutive loss on the Lions, despite the return of captain Alviro Petersen and Paul Harris.
Neither of the two national caps made a major difference on the field. However, young Jonathan Vandiar, playing only his third match of the season in this format, was in a bullish mood. He smacked the second ball of the third over back over Albie Morkel's for a six, and the bruising had begun.
Vandiar's fireworks ultimately included 13 fours and three sixes as he reached his highest limited-overs score, 130, off 108 balls. Forty of his runs came off a riled-up Andre Nel. Vandiar shared in a 100-run second-wicket stand with Richard Cameron, who made 45 off 37. The Lions had a middle-order wobble when van der Merwe removed Chris Morris and Neil McKenzie cheaply in consecutive overs. However, they were already well set for a meaty total, and Zander de Bruyn's unbeaten 53 added the spice to lift them to 299.
Last week, the Titans put on 310 for 4 against the Lions, so they wouldn't have been too intimidated by the tall target. What might have scared them was Ethan O'Reilly's opening spell. He struck with his third ball, an inswinger that trapped Henry Davids leg before. O'Reilly then removed the Titans captain Jacques Rudolph in his fourth over, getting him caught at backward point for 11.
Gulam Bodi - who reached 3500 List A runs during his 41 - kept the Titans in the hunt. However, he fell to a stunning catch by Petersen in the covers off Werner Coetsee. Even with Bodi at the crease, the required run-rate had climbed to nearly 10 an over. Faf du Plessis and van der Merwe eased the pressure with a fourth-wicket partnership of 119 that came in only 12 overs. Both played an array of dazzling shots, particularly pulls and drives, with special punishment reserved for former team-mate Harris, who leaked 36 runs in his first four overs.
de Bruyn removed du Plessis for 61, as the in-form man inside-edged onto his stumps. In the next over, van der Merwe's aggressive knock, that included seven sixes, ended in tame fashion when he was caught on the square-leg boundary by Friedel de Wet for 93 off 51 balls. He had almost managed to resurrect the Titans from the dead. Morkel tried the resuscitation technique as well. His 24 off 17 included two sixes off Werner Coetsee, both of which just cleared the long-on rope. Three deliveries later, O'Reilly had him trapped lbw for his third wicket.
Ironically, it was O'Reilly's last over, which saw him getting smashed all around like a rag doll for 19 runs that killed off the match. Seventeen of those spewed from the bat of David Wiese, who was the Titans' savior in the end. He denied the Lions any revenge over their provincial rivals, who beat them by 96 runs at the same venue in a pool match last week. The second leg of the tie takes place on Wednesday at the Wanderers.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent