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Six teams, three matches, one title on offer

Duanne Olivier will be in action for Knights as the Sunfoil Series reaches its climax Gallo Images

For the first time in the franchise era, which began 13 summers ago, all six teams are in with a chance of winning the first-class title on the final weekend. Less than 16 points separate the table-topping Titans from the last-placed Warriors in the Sunfoil series, which means that not only is every match a must-win for both sides but they could also be left relying on other results.

None of the sides has managed more than three wins, which speaks to the competitiveness of the competition. According to CSA convener of selectors, Linda Zondi, the almighty scrap at the end is a sign of how high the standards have been.

"It's a clear indication of the strength of our system. Players understand how to perform at a certain level, how to respond under pressure and how to win," Zondi told ESPNcricinfo. "That means when we pick them at international level, they are able to make the step up. Players are backing their skills and we are very excited about what's to come."

Zondi and his three other selectors - Hussein Manack, Errol Stewart and Lux Qoboshiyana - watch between 30 and 40 days of domestic cricket a season each to keep a close eye on proceedings, closer even than for some in the national set-up.

South Africa's first-class competition is not televised, which means anyone who is not the at the ground, including Test captain Faf du Plessis, relies on live scoring on the internet to get an idea of performances. With nine Tests in the next eight months before the next first-class competition, it is especially important for du Plessis to see depth.

"Now and then I check on Cricinfo for some scores and who is doing well. It's nice to see that everyone is in the running," du Plessis said. "Obviously, there are one or two places that are still up for grabs in the Test team so it's important to see who is on form. I check especially on that. We have really important Test series coming up and there are a few spots up for grabs so it's just making sure those guys do what they need to do to."

Duanne Olivier has already claimed one of those places, when he was rewarded with a mid-season call-up to the Test squad to play Sri Lanka in Johannesburg following revelations Kyle Abbott had signed a Kolpak deal. Olivier was top of the wicket-takers' list at the time, with 28 scalps at 21.60, and has since maintained that spot despite missing two franchise matches. He now has 46 wickets at 18.80, 16 ahead of his nearest competitor.

That should be enough to earn Olivier a spot on the upcoming Test tours of New Zealand and England, but he is not the only player in action this weekend who could be on those trips.

With AB de Villiers ruling himself out of Test cricket until at least the India series in December, South Africa will be looking for a reserve gloveman and two players have put up their hands. Knights' wicketkeeper Rudi Second, who also lies fifth on the batting charts, and Lions' Mangaliso Mosehle, who made his T20 debut last month, will both be looked at. South Africa have identified Theunis de Bruyn (fourth on the run-scorers' list) as the reserve Test batsman but the selectors will also be interested in the progress of Dolphins' pair Vaughn van Jaarsveld, who leads the charts, and Khaya Zondo, who is in third.

But over the next four days, individual efforts will pale in comparison to the spectacle that will be a six-team shootout. Each franchise will be eyeing ten points for victory but, with further bonuses for batting and bowling, calculators could be required. The action takes place in Benoni (Titans v Warriors), Johannesburg (Lions v Knights) and Durban (Cobras v Dolphins) and deserves for there to be more people than just Zondi and co. watching.

What each team needs to do to win: (Courtesy of CSA statistician Andrew Samson)

Titans: Must beat Warriors and score within 119 runs of what Knights score in the first 100 overs of their first innings, if Knights also win.

Knights: Must beat Lions and score at least 120 more than Titans score in the first 100 overs of their first innings, if Titans also win.

Cobras: Must beat Dolphins and hope Knights, Titans and Lions fail to win - but even then it is not in their hands. They must hope Titans don't score at least 57 more than Cobras make in the first 100 overs of their first innings; or Knights don't score at least 176 more. Cobras can still take the title if Lions win, as long as Lions score no more than 122 more than Cobras in the first 100 overs of their first innings.

Dolphins: Must beat Cobras, and score at least 54 more than Cobras in the first 100 overs of their first innings, and hope Knights, Titans and Lions fail to win - but, again, that still does not guarantee them the title. They must hope Titans don't score at least 4 more than Dolphins score in the first 100 overs of their first innings; or Knights don't score at least 123 more. If Lions win, Dolphins need them to score no more than 67 more than Dolphins score in the first 100 overs of their first innings in order to win the trophy.

Lions: Must beat Knights and hope Dolphins, Cobras and Titans all fail to win and that Titans don't score within 66 of what Lions score in the first 100 overs of their first innings and that Knights don't score at least 55 more than Lions in the first 100 overs of their first innings.

Warriors: Must beat Titans and score at least 299 more than Titans score in the first 100 overs of their first innings and hope the other two games end in draws and Knights don't score at least 180 more than Warriors score in the first 100 overs of their first innings.