KwaZulu-Natal's hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals of the Standard Bank Cup are hanging by the slenderest of threads after yesterday's 17-run defeat against Border.

The Dolphins will almost certainly have to win both their remaining matches - no easy task - against Gauteng at home on Friday, and Eastern Province away on Sunday, if they are to sneak into the semis.

The home form of the Dolphins in this competition has been disappointing, to say the least, with Dale Benkenstein's men losing their last two matches against Easterns and Border when they should have won both encounters. If the bowling let the Dolphins down against Easterns, it was their much-vaunted batting that failed them at Kingsmead yesterday. Having restricted Border to a very gettable 221-7 on the flattest of tracks, the home team's top order got themselves into all sorts of bother as they quickly plunged to 50-4 in their reply. Admittedly, the Border bowlers bowled well, particularly up front, with the excellent Vasbert Drakes and Makhaya Ntini keeping a tight line and length.

However too many batsmen got themselves out with Doug Watson, holing out to deep midwicket, and skipper Dale Benkenstein, rashly trying to drive his second ball over the top, particularly guilty of giving it away. It was left to young Jon Kent to save the Dolphins's blushes with an excellent 71 in 86 balls (six fours). He received useful help from Errol Stewart, Eldine Baptiste and Ross Veenstra as the home team just about managed to maintain the required run rate. Unfortunately, they lost wickets far too regularly in the process. Nevertheless, the fact that they got as close as they did, emphasised how comfortably victory could have been achieved with a more sensible, measured approach earlier on.

In that sense, the Border opening pair of Man of the Match Piet Botha (55) and Justin Kreusch (59) showed how it should have been done. The two, who were rarely troubled, put on 125 for the first wicket, giving the visitors the perfect platform for a reasonable total . As it turned out, Border lost the plot a little after that start with only a half-century partnership between Steven Pope and Tyrone Henderson enabling them to get past the 200-mark.

One dispiriting note was struck by the decision of Jonty Rhodes to not make himself available for yesterday's match. In the light of his wife Kate giving birth to their first child last week, it was understandable that he decided not to tour India, or, for that matter, not to play in the Dolphins's away matches against Northerns and North West last week. But surely playing in a oneday match in Durban yesterday would not have upset his domestic arrangements? The Dolphins surely needed his experience and expertise, and morale in the dressing-room could not have been boosted by his absence.

With Benkenstein - on national duty in India - unavailable for Friday's must-win match against Gauteng and Sunday's equally vital away clash against Eastern Province, Rhodes needs to raise his hand for his province this week.