While the administrators at the Gauteng Cricket Board continue to rumble in the concrete jungle, the Lions have finally turned their season around by sneaking into the semi-finals of the Pro20 competition. They went on to win the first leg of their best of three last-four clash with the Titans.
First, it was a two-run win over the Eagles that helped the Lions advance to the knock-out stage of the competition. They racked up an impressive 184 for 6, with Jonathan Vandiar's 56 off 40 balls taking the Lions from 18 for 1 to 138 for 3. The middle order chipped in with handy contributions from Richard Cameron (36 off 20) and Vaughn van Jaarsveld (37 off 23). The Eagles bowlers conceded their biggest total in the competition and only Johan van der Wath (2 for 22) and Jandre Coetzee (9 for 27) looked to be doing any sort of containing job.
The Eagles lost Adrian McLaren with the score on just 16, but Morne van Wyk's impressive run in the competition continued. He smashed 74 off 51 balls and when he departed the Eagles needed 35 runs to win off three overs. The Lions sank their claws into the Eagles three times in those final three overs, with Ethan O' Reilly (2 for 36), Zander de Bruyn (1 for 21) and Shane Burger (1 for 46) all striking once. The Eagles needed 18 runs off the last three balls, and managed 15. Robbie Frylink had the best return for the Lions with 2 for 35, and kept his position at the top of the bowling rankings, which he shares with team-mate O'Reilly.
In Centurion, the Warriors suffered their first defeat of the tournament and it was a hefty one. They went down by 55 runs to the Titans. The hosts scored 182 for 4 in their 20 overs. Jacques Rudolph was the main contributor with 69 off 37 balls, including six fours and three sixes. Gulam Bodi added 44 off 37 balls. Garnet Kruger (3 for 26) removed Rudolph, Bodi and took the opening wicket of Blake Snijman.
The Warriors needed one batsman to go big but their highest scorer was Jon-Jon Smuts (34 off 29) and the rest of the batsmen failed to get out of the teens. Pierre Joubert took the wickets of the opening batsmen, Smuts and Ashwell Prince (13 off 11) before David Wiese mauled the Warriors with his 5 for 19. With none of the batsmen able to get going, the Warriors ended on 127. That result cut the Eastern Cape franchise's lead at the top of the table to just one point. Ironically, it was the Titans who were nipping at their heels in second place.
The first semi-final took place in Johannesburg, where the Lions left it to the last ball to beat the Titans by four wickets. The Titans batted first and lost two wickets in the fourth over to O'Reilly (2 for 18) to dent their charge. Heino Kuhn's 35 off 27 balls along with Wiese's 26 off 12 balls added late impetus for the visitors who finished on 143 for 5. Burger (2 for 24) was the only other wicket taker for the hosts.
The Lions' chase began in subdued fashion, with just 32 runs on the board in the sixth over when Vandiar (10 off 16) become Ethy Mbhalati's (1 for 19) only victim. Neil McKenzie stayed calm, adding 35 off 34 balls, aided by the aggression of Richard Cameron (17 off 9) and van Jaarsveld (19 off 17). Faf du Plessis (3 for 18) removed McKenzie, van Jaarsveld and then captain Thami Tsolekile (20 off 10) to end as the Titans' best bowler. Jean Symes hit 30 off 25 balls to take the Lions to the brink, but it was up to Frylinck to get a boundary off the last ball to win the match. The Lions go to Centurion next week with a massive advantage over their neighbours, being one up in the tie.
In Port Elizabeth , Colin Ingram justified his inclusion in the national Twenty20 provisional squad with a fluent, undefeated 60 off 41 balls for the Warriors. They took on the Cobras in the second semi. The Cobras only made three inroads into the Warriors batting - the first two when Smuts (24 off 19) and Prince (5 off 12) departed by the sixth over and the only other when Justin Kreusch (11 off 16) fell to Robin Peterson (1 for 27). Davy Jacobs scored 42 off 32 not out as the Warriors totalled 149 for 3.
The Cobras lost Andrew Puttick for just three in their reply. Peterson opened the innings with Puttick and he carried his bat to end on an undefeated 50 off 46 balls. His only assistance came from captain Justin Kemp (43 off 32 balls). The Cobras needed seven to win off the last four balls and looked likely to win the match, until Rory Kleinveldt was run out by Rusty Theron, who also took 2 for 23, off the penultimate ball. They ended on 146 for 8 and go to Cape Town one down in their tie.