Easterns crash out of semis contention by one run
Easterns, needing a victory to edge Eastern Province out of semi-final qualification, provided the disgruntled fans who braved a chilly Willowmoore Park until the midnight finish with a masterclass on the art of throwing a game away, as they eventually lost out by one run.
Chasing a target revised via the Duckworth/Lewis method to 206 off 39 overs after a lengthy rain interruption during Free State's innings of 190 for four, Easterns were in cruise control, reaching 73 without loss off their first 10 overs. Even when the scoring rate was slowed markedly by the introduction to the attack of debutant Rasheed Lewis and Johan van der Wath, the home side looked untroubled, with Derek Brand and Mike Rindel advancing the total to 98 in the 18th over, before Rindel was caught and bowled by Van der Wath for 37 off 40 balls.
Brand, who had reached his half-century off 60 balls, hitting eight sweetly struck fours, added 44 for the second wicket with Andre Seymore, with the asking rate, which had been 5,3 to the over at the start of the innings, being kept comfortably below five.
When Brand drove occasional left-arm spinner Morne van Wyk to Lewis at mid-on to fall for 75, though, the wobbles started. Skipper Deon Jordaan was bowled for a duck four balls later by Van Wyk, but Seymore and Derek Crookes added 31 and it seemed the Easterns carriage was back on the rails.
Fans at Willowmoore Park, however, have learned not to count their chickens before they've hatched and when Seymore was run out by a direct hit from Gerhardus Liebenberg with the total on 173, just 33 away from the target, the real slide started.
Twenty-six runs later, Easterns were nine down and last man in Andre Nel was striding to the crease, seven off three balls the target now. He managed a single off the first and Aldo van den Berg got two off the next. Four off one was possible, but it was entirely in keeping with the panic-stricken preceding overs that he was unable to propel the ball to the boundary and only two were run. Another choke in a finish to the campaign that saw Easterns unable to win any of their last five matches, just getting that tie with Eastern Province in a match that was also theirs for the taking.
Free State had batted steadily throughout their innings, Kosie Venter (69) and Van Wyk (24) adding 50 for the second wicket before Venter and Louis Wilkinson (52 not out off 58 balls) added 92 for the third in a stand interrupted by a thunderstorm and subsequent showers which forced the reduction in overs.
Free State were able to hit only 10 fours in their innings, a figure Brand and Rindel comfortably passed on their own, with 14 between them. However, Johan van der Wath did hit 17-year-old Brendan Reddy for a big six in the visitor's final over, a blow that ultimately proved the difference between victory and defeat.