Jozi Stars 239 for 3 (van der Dussen 96*, Christian 52*) beat Tshwane Spartans 138 (Cloete 50, Pongolo 6-20) by 101 runs
Nono Pongolo starred with a pitch-perfect, career-best 6 for 20, the best figures ever recorded in a T20 at the Wanderers, to bowl Tshwane Spartans out for 138 in the 18th over, as Jozi Stars secured a home play-off berth with a massive 101-run win. The Spartans had been set 240 to win after Rassie van der Dussen and Dan Christian shared in a 118-run stand that included 12 sixes as Stars soared to 239 for 3, the highest score of the competition. Kagiso Rabada then dismissed AB de Villiers for a duck before Pongolo took over, and Stars' victory ensured that this ground will host the play-off eliminator match on Friday night. Despite the scale of their defeat, Spartans still have a slim chance of getting into the play-offs
Stars hadn't looked like breaching 200 when they reached 49 for 1 at the end of the Powerplay, but Ryan Rickelton shifted through the gears with two sixes and a four. The introduction of Rabada as a pinch-hitter at No. 4 also signaled a change of intent: he clipped the very first ball he faced from Robbie Frylinck over midwicket for four.
If the plan was to boost the run rate with carefree hitting, it worked. Rabada swiped back-to-back boundaries off Mendis on either side of the ground and cut Elgar high over point, keeping the run rate well over 9 in a rapid stand, before he was caught one-handed on the ropes at midwicket by a leaping Lutho Sipamla.
The Stars had a solid platform laid at 121 for 3 with seven overs to go when van der Dussen was joined by Christian. From those overs rained an incredible 12 sixes and 118 runs. Von Berg had his figures ruined in his final over, as Christian collected three sixes, the second of which took the score beyond 150. Having taken a brief backseat while Rabada and Christian led the charge early on, van der Dussen walked down the pitch at Corbin Bosch, the quickest bowler on either side, to bring up a 30-ball fifty in the 17th over.
The fifty partnership came up with Christian's fourth six, a gargantuan hit off Bosch that endangered the birds circling around the floodlights, and the Spartans were clearly rattled by the severity of the onslaught. Repeatedly they offered up length in the slot, and there was a sense of inevitability as van der Dussen and Christian peppered the stands with an eye-catching display of power-hitting.
Christian raced to fifty from 18 balls - the quickest so far in the MSL - and van der Dussen had a century in his sights after he plundered three sixes from Sipamla's fourth over. The century stand was raised from just 38 deliveries, and 101 runs flowed from the last five overs, the second-most ever during that period of the game in all T20 cricket. Van der Dussen, mic-ed up to talk to the commentary team when Stars took the field, credited the Highveld conditions "Altitude," he said, "the ball flies here."
Like Bosch, Rabada cranked it up it his opening spell, nearing 150km/h. It was Beuran Hendricks who struck first though, Andrea Agathangelou pulling a short one straight out to Rickelton at deep square leg in the third over of the chase. When Elgar was bowled by Duanne Olivier, Spartans were 24 for 2 and listing dangerously as the required rate moved beyond 13.
That wicket brought de Villiers to the crease, and he was perhaps the only player whose reputation suggested he might be able to dig Spartans out of this hole. But he flashed at the second ball he faced, bowled by Rabada, only for Simon Harmer to pull off a superb aerial catch in the gully. Perhaps out of respect, Rabada barely celebrated the wicket, managing a sheepish smile as he was high-fived by his excited team-mates.
Eoin Morgan shone briefly, taking two fours and a six down the ground off Christian's first over, but the introduction of Pongolo turned the match decisively in Stars' favour. With his first ball, he had Morgan well caught at point by Beuran Hendricks, and with his third, he found the leading edge of Bosch's bat as Stars slipped to 72 for 5.
Pongolo returned in the 15th over, removing Gihahn Cloete the ball after he had brought up a battling 39-ball fifty, before Fryinck lapped a slower ball straight to van der Dussen at deep square leg. In his final over, another slower ball brought Pongolo his first ever five-wicket haul in T20 cricket, and Jeevan Mendis then skied his final delivery to Reeza Hendricks at deep midwicket. When van der Dussen was awarded Player of the Match, he called Pongolo up to take it instead.
"This is what dreams are made of," a breathless Pongolo said after his performance. "This is what it's about. We needed to win, and it's nice to produce it when it's needed."
Spartans must now focus on their final game against Durban Heat at Centurion on Wednesday - a bonus point and a big in that game could still take them to third, provided Paarl Rocks beat Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, but not by a big margin.
If Spartans, Rocks and Giants all finish on 21 points, then Spartans will qualify as they had won both their matches against Rocks and both these sides would have more wins than Giants. The latter can qualify with a straight victory over the Rocks while the Rocks will get through if they win with a bonus point or score a straight win, provided the Spartans lose.