van der Merwe, Richards star for Titans
Rowan Richards, the Titans' left-arm seamer, bagged the first hat-trick of the South African summer and secured a 170-run victory for his team against the Warriors in Benoni. Richards' three wickets formed part of his seventh career five-for and followed on from a much stronger Titans batting effort than they have displayed for almost a season.
Although the Titans' top two - who only managed a single half-century stand last summer - still struggled, Test opener Dean Elgar managed scores of 44 and 45 in what will be his last first-class outing before he is needed for international duty. The big runs came from other sources. Theunis de Bruyn, a 21-year-old batsman from the University of Pretoria scored 95, which included an 80-run partnership with Elgar, but barely hinted at what was to come.
It was only when Roelof van der Merwe got going that the tide turned in the Titans' favour and strongly so as van der Merwe converted a maiden first-class century into a double with 205. Farhaan Behardien contributed to a 155-run fifth-wicket stand and Mangaliso Mosehle helped add 186 for the sixth-wicket to beef up the Titans innings. Behardien's 74 was the third half-century in as many innings.
The Warriors' fortune also came in threes, but of the disappointing kind. For the third innings in the competition they could not break big stands and this time were unable to even bowl their opposition out. The Titans declared on 539 for 6, after van der Merwe's raised his bat to a double-ton.
At 86 for 5 in the reply, the Warriors were already facing the possibility of conceding a big first-innings deficit. Only one of the top four made it into double figures as Behardien took two wickets in two overs, to prove an unlikely aggressor with ball in hand. Captain Colin Ingram held his team together with Simon Harmer, who helped put on 111 for the sixth-wicket, and Andrew Birch but the Titans took an advantage of 248 runs into their second innings.
With quick run-scoring the priority as they tried to bat the Warriors out of the game, none of the Titans' batsmen converted starts but they frustrated their opposition nonetheless. Their 165 runs came at a rate of 5.89 an over and they declared having set the Warriors a target of 414, as day three was drawing to an end.
Eight overs into the Warriors reply, they had already lost both openers and knew the final day would be a fight. Two more wickets fell in the first session but again, Ingram was in the way. Ryan Bailey provided some stern resistance as well and the pair posted 113 for the fifth-wicket with Ingram threatening to score a second century. But within a short space of time Bailey and Ingram fell with the score on 224 and 225 respectively and the Warriors resistance unravelled quickly. They lost 6 for 19, including three in three balls to Richards to leave them winless after two matches.
At the opposite end of the table, the Knights stormed to a second victory of the season after beating the Lions by 143 runs in Potchefstroom. Both teams came off wins in their first matches and the Lions appeared to take the early advantage when they had the Knights 84 for 3 on a traditionally batsman-friendly pitch. Left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe claimed all three early wickets.
Rudi Second led the recovery and captain Werner Coetsee contributed a half-century but 267 still seemed a below-par score. Recent T20 call-up Kagiso Rabada was the most successful Lions bowler with 4 for 57.
The Lions also stumbled at first in their reply. They were 0 for 2 and 68 for 4 thanks to a burst from Quinton Friend and Dillon du Preez. Quinton de Kock's third fifty of the competition began the counter-attack but it was Thami Tsolekile's century which took the Lions into the black. Tsolekile had lower-order assistance, particularly from Hardus Viljoen who scored a patient 59 and spent seven minutes short of three hours at the crease, to give the Lions a lead of 101.
Reeza Hendricks' dismissal the second ball into the Knights' second innings may have suggested the Lions would push home their advantage but they could not. Gihahn Cloete and Gerhardt Abrahams wiped away the deficit, Cloete went on to a century and Second was among the runs again to make a draw seem the only likely outcome at the end of the third day.
That changed mid-way through the final day. Viljoen's five-for allowed the Lions to slice through the Knights' middle and lower order. They lost 6 for 75 and were bowled out for 381, setting the Lions a target of 281 runs in a minimum of 55 overs.
The Lions signalled their intent to chase it down when de Kock was promoted to No. 3 but they collectively fell on their swords. The Lions were outspun by Coetsee and Malusi Siboto and were barely clinging on at 74 for 6. Tsolekile was again their bridge over troubled water and contributed 56 but the he could not stop the collapse around him. He was the last man out, as the Lions lost late in the day.
The first-class competition will take a break until December and as things stands, the Knights are at the top of the table, 4.18 points ahead of the Lions. They also have the top run-scorer, Second, who has 259 runs to his name, four more than Ingram and 13 ahead of Tsolekile, in their ranks. Lions' Viljoen leads the wicket charts with 14 scalps, followed by Harmer with 11 and Coetsee with 10.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent