Knights hold nerve in tense chase to beat Dolphins
Knights 227 for 6 (Hendricks 64, Elgar 58, Abbott 2-37) beat Dolphins 226 for 7 (Bopara 64, A Amla 35, Coetzee 2-33) by four wickets
Two vital partnerships took the Knights to a four-wicket victory over the Dolphins in the first leg of the second MTN40 semi-final in Bloemfontein. They successfully chased 227 in an intriguing low-scoring match on a deceivingly two-paced wicket.
Dean Elgar and Reeza Hendricks steadied the Knights' innings with a 109-run fourth-wicket stand in 117 balls after they had been reduced to 29 for 3. And in a tense finish with 54 needed in 5.3 overs, Obus Pienaar and Johan van der Wath finished off the job in 23 balls.
The Dolphins had earlier got off to a snappy start after choosing to bat, with Imraan Khan and Ahmed Amla putting on 31. Khan skied a Ryan McLaren delivery to midwicket, giving the South Africa fringe bowler his first scalp. McLaren also removed Jon Kent four overs later, and the scoring rate cooled off a bit after the big hitter's dismissal.
Amla and Ravi Bopara then found some rhythm. Both played a range of wristy boundaries, but just when the combination had started to look dangerous, Amla lofted one to Obus Pienaar at long-on to depart for 35. Jandre Coetzee had snagged the big fish in his first over.
He went on to bowl an economical spell, giving away 19 runs in his first four overs. Coetzee and Con de Lange managed to keep Bopara and Vaughn van Jaarsveld relatively quiet in the middle overs. After being frustrated by a lack of boundaries, the pair began to rotate the strike. Van Jaarsveld, however, grew restless and with no balance, played a nothing shot, a casual flick to Johan van der Wath at long leg.
Bopara patiently soldiered on and reached his 28th limited-overs half century, off 60 balls with six boundaries. He had his anchor role cut short when Coetzee came back for a second spell. He offered Bopara a long hop down the leg side which should have been smacked over midwicket for six, but the batsman played too early, the ball came off the back of the bat and Morne van Wyk took the catch.
David Miller and Daryn Smit's seventh-wicket partnership added late impetus. They hit three sixes between them; Smit's was a down-on-bended-knee improvisation over fine leg. They added 37 in five overs as the Dolphins ended on 226 for 7.
The Dolphins had the Knights on the back foot early when the opening bowling pair of Kent and Kyle Abbott plucked three wickets in ten overs. van Wyk was dismissed off the first ball in bizarre fashion. He missed a Kent delivery, which went on to clip his off stump although the bail was not removed. Umpire Dennis Smith heard the noise and gave van Wyk out caught behind.
Rilee Rossouw went in the next over, trapped lbw by Abbott, who had a superb five-over opening spell, also taking out Ryan Bailey. Abbott gave the batsmen no room and only conceded nine runs in that spell.
The change bowlers didn't have the same success though. Quinton Friend was expensive and Bopara had a chance put down. Elgar was on 17 and offered a simple catch to Glen Addicott on the deep cover boundary, who not only couldn't dropped it, but also let the ball escape for four.
The Dolphins were left to rue that mistake as Elgar and Hendricks quietly chipped away at the target. Hendricks finally went lbw to Friend for 64 and Elgar followed in the next over on 58, also leg before, to Imran Tahir.
When McLaren too fell in the 35th over with 54 runs required, it looked as though the Dolphins had sealed the win, but Pienaar and van der Wath had other ideas. Their bludgeoning burst finished off the Dolphins, with van der Wath the chief aggressor. He bashed 29 off 14 balls to lead the Knights to victory with 10 balls to spare. The second leg of the tie takes place in Durban on Friday.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent