Tshwane Spartans 165 for 4 (Cloete 65, Williams 1-15) beat Nelson Mandela Bay Giants 137 for 9 (Duckett 47, von Berg 3-19) by 28 runs
AB de Villiers' Tshwane Spartans kept their Mzansi Super League play-off hopes alive, holding Nelson Mandela Bay Giants to 137 for 9 to secure a 28-run victory at St George's Park. Opener Gihahn Cloete's third fifty of the competition carried Spartans to 165 for 4 on a pitch that played slightly on the slow side, and de Villiers then set the tone early in defence of the total, pulling off a stunning diving catch in the outfield. Shaun von Berg's canny legbreaks were instrumental in maintaining Spartans' control with the ball, and he collected 3 for 19 in four overs.
While Spartans would have been even happier with a bonus point - they have yet to secure one so far this season - the victory nonetheless took them to fourth place on the points table, with two games in hand, as well as slightly improving their net run-rate. Giants remain third on 21 points with one more round robin game against Paarl Rocks on Wednesday. The inaugural MSL title race is still wide open for every team apart from Durban Heat.
De Villiers did his first job right in calling correctly at the toss and opting to bat, knowing that a pitch that encouraged the spinners would be difficult to chase on. Cloete backed up the decision with a 59-ball 65 that anchored the innings and laid a platform. Pushed up to open, Cloete dealt with the early loss of Andrea Agathangelou by sharing in a 72-run stand with Dean Elgar, who hit three sixes in his 32.
Together they took Spartans to 44 for 1 in the Powerplay, and even found ways to attack the spinners, hitting sixes off the captain Jon-Jon Smuts, Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir before Tahir had Elgar driving uppishly into the hands of Heino Kuhn at cover in the 10th over.
Tahir should also have had de Villiers lbw in his third over soon afterwards. He rushed a slider on to the batsman's pads to start the over, prompting an appeal that was turned down. There was another more vehement plea four balls later as Tahir rapped de Villiers on the pad with a legbreak only for umpire Shaun George to shake his head again. Replays showed the ball pitching in line and going on to crash into leg stump. Tahir was distraught. Even more so when de Villiers reverse-swept the very next delivery for four.
De Villiers wasn't at his vintage best, managing a slightly scratchy 33 before he was out in the final over, but Eoin Morgan gave the innings some impetus, swatting two sixes - the first via a leading edge - in a rapid cameo to push the total above par.
Giants knew that a win in this game would virtually secure their place in the play-offs, but when they lost three wickets inside the Powerplay, their task looked increasingly difficult. Giants lost Jason Roy in the first over, and Rudi Second to de Villiers' brilliant outfield catch minutes later. Seamer Lutho Sipamla overcame a no-ball and a Free Hit that went for six to dismiss Smuts for 26, and then the spinners took over.
Von Berg trapped Kuhn lbw in his very first over, and Jeevan Mendis had Christiaan Jonker stumped with a ripping legbreak as Giants slipped into trouble at 73 for 5. When von Berg had Chris Morris caught reverse-sweeping to point and Duckett was run out seeking a single off a misfield for 47, Giants were 92 for 7 and suddenly a vital bonus point seemed a distinct possibility for Spartans.
Sisanda Magala struck two enormous sixes to keep Spartans sweating, but he fell attempting a third off von Berg. De Villiers' men went into the penultimate over with just two runs to play with in order to secure the bonus point and Giants' last pair at the crease. Despite an lbw appeal and a scrambled single that might have seen Tahir run out, Sipamla couldn't grab the vital wicket, but Spartans had already done enough at least to keep themselves in the hunt for the play-offs.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town