Jennings pulls one over old foes
It was a time when even the drops of dew on the field would turn sour if Gauteng and Easterns were going to clash on it. The acidic atmosphere could burn a path all the way up the N12, the road that links Johannesburg to Benoni and separated the Gauteng cricket team from their rivals at Easterns.
There wasn't always bile flowing between these two unions, but Ray Jennings had an acrimonious split from Gauteng and moved his expertise along the highway to Easterns. He took with him a wealth of players including Daryll Cullinan and Derek Crookes. Neighbours, the two unions remained; friends, they did not.
One summer's day soon after that, Easterns travelled to the Wanderers to take on their old friends and new enemies. Matters on the field in that match have long been forgotten because of the events that took place off it. In an act of sheer malice some of the players' tyres had been slashed. One team alleged the other had done the evil deed and vice versa. The rumours swirled in the sour space between the two. The reason behind that reported incident remains a mystery but based on all the above evidence, the player exodus, led by the former coach, may have had something to do with it, irrespective of which side were the culprits.
That was just less than ten years ago and Jennings' Easterns were on the rise. They went on to win the country's four-day challenge in the 2002/3 season, a coup for a union of their size. Their coach continued to court controversy like a hormonal teenager, paying new-find Andre Nel to hit Alan Donald on the head with a bouncer and never failing to offer a candid opinion when asked. He went on to coach the Proteas, head up the national academy and coach the South African under-19 team. The air between him and the Wanderers had never quite cleared.
Jennings, now coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, came back to the Bullring occasionally, but on Tuesday, he came back with a mission: to beat his old men with his new ones. With the exception of Zander de Bruyn, who played at Easterns in the Jennings era, most of the current Lions pride have no association associate with the old Gauteng-Easterns feud. The Royal Challengers have no players with any ties to those historic grudges.
Bangalore had two South African players take the field, Dillon du Preez and Dale Steyn, who combined to run-out Vaughn van Jaarsveld. Steyn played his domestic cricket at the Titans franchise up until last season, the Northern Johannesburg powerhouses who also have a history of intense rivalry with the Lions. That may explain why Steyn was so animated when he whipped the bails off to dismiss van Jaarsveld.
That run-out was really what turned the match. It was the extinguisher, pouring itself over the rest of the Lions innings as every flame they tried to light was doused. Fifty-nine painful runs were eked out in the nine overs that followed and in the end it was that passage of play that lost them the match. How ironic, that that passage started with a run-out completed by Steyn.
The Lions probably knew that 160 was not enough, even though Bangalore were without Jacques Kallis. But what they knew was eroded by what they believed. With the support of a large portion of the home crowd, they went about their fieldwork with discipline. Cliffe Deacon was the beacon, with his four overs being the most economical. Good contributions by Aaron Phangiso, Robbie Frylinck and Richard Cameron let a glimmer of hope shine through. With four overs left, Bangalore required 43 runs. Then, there was one rogue act too many.
Ethan O'Reilly, the hero in their performance against Guyana, became the villain. His fourth over went for 19 runs, 12 of them coming from two powerful Virat Kohli sixes, and the cork had been popped. After that, the pressure escaped quickly and it took just two more overs for the Challengers to knock the Lions out. With so many nemeses around them, the home side simply couldn't afford one more. In the dugout, Jennings' broad grin was there for all to see. It's been almost a decade later and the man still managed to get one over his old foes.
Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg