December 7, 2000

Eagles squash the Strikers' challenge

The Highveld Strikers, who had set their sights on winning the Standard Bank Cup after a dismal defence of their Supersport Series first-class title this season, took another step backwards in the limited overs format when they lost to Free State by six runs at Goodyear Park on Wednesday night.

In a match reduced by rain to 42 overs a side, the Strikers twice seemed to be cruising to their target of 223. First, when Adam Bacher and debutant Marthinus Otto were fashioning a third-wicket stand of 66.

Then Bacher, who top-scored with 40, and Otto, who got 25, were caught in the deep off consecutive deliveries from Morne van Wyk. Van Wyk is an occasional left-arm spinner and had only been employed in that role when the man originally picked for the job, Johannes Mokoenanyane, picked up a back injury in his fourth over.

The Strikers' ship had seemingly been righted when Nic Pothas and Ottis Gibson were together, adding 37 for the sixth wicket off less than five overs, but Gibson too was caught in the deep, at long-off by Herman Bakkes, having been put down off the previous ball at long-on by Gerhardus Liebenberg, and the innings crumbled.

With Pothas trying to keep the strike, but unable to hit boundaries off some superb bowling from Dewald Pretorius and Victor Mpitsang when he had it, the asking rate grew and the wickets fell. Mpitsang had Geoffrey Toyana caught by twelfth man Andre Abrahams and then trapped Clive Eksteen in front in the space of three balls in the 41st over, an achievement that also pushed the runs required to 14 off the last.

Neil Fusedale lasted two Pretorius deliveries after Pothas had, perhaps unwisely, taken a single off the first, and Pothas, having got back to strike as Fusedale was picking out Van Wyk at mid-on, couldn't get the 12 required off the last three. Pretorius jammed the first one into his pads and he was unable to get it away, rendering the last two balls academic, provided he could avoid wides and no-balls, which he did.

Van Wyk's catch, two wickets and a superb 62 in Free State's 222 for five earned him the man of the match award. The platform had been laid by Kosie Venter (89) and Andrew Gait (41), who put on 90 for the first wicket, and after the cheap dismissal of Wiaan Smit, Van Wyk helped Venter maintain the early momentum.