The inexperience of an Eastern Province bowling attack missing Mornantau Hayward, Meyrick Pringle and Garnett Kruger was ruthlessly exposed on Monday as Easterns cantered to a five-wicket victory in their Supersport Series match at Willowmoore Park in Benoni, their second in as many weekends.
The win virtually ensures that Easterns will campaign in the Super Eight phase of the competition next year, while EP must be fearful of being the side to miss out from Pool B, which also includes KwaZulu-Natal, Western Province and Border.
Easterns' target of 276 had seemed like a tall order on Monday morning, when they resumed on 40 for one, having lost Brad White for 15 overnight, and it looked beyond them by the time Mike Rindel was caught behind for 14, to leave them reeling on 93 for four. Considering the home side's brittle display with the bat in their first knock, the men from Port Elizabeth had a strong sniff of victory in their nostrils.
It would have been even stronger had Dave Callaghan caught Pierre de Bruyn at second slip when he had 12, but the veteran allrounder grassed the chance. As it turned out, sadly for Callaghan, De Bruyn and Derek Crookes went on to add all but six of the 183 runs still required for victory when they had come together.
Crookes was the chief aggressor, going to lunch on 40 to De Bruyn's 14. But the sharing out of the runs mattered far less than the fact that they proved an ideal pairing, with good communication and speed between the stumps ensuring that numerous tight singles were safely negotiated.
The Willowmoore Park pitch had been expected to hold a few terrors for the batsmen and it certainly contributed to captain Deon Jordaan's dismissal, when he played back to a delivery from slow left-armer Robin Peterson which stayed low and shot through under his bat to bowl him.
However, Crookes showed the value of a positive approach when the pitch is not entirely trustworthy as he raced towards his century. The introduction of the new ball after 80 overs, when Easterns had 197 for four, was the visitors' last throw of the dice, but far from halting the home side's run spree it contributed to its acceleration as youngsters like the highly rated Mfuneko Ngam and strapping debutant Dewald Senekal failed to get the basics right, bowling far too many balls wide outside the off stump.
In the second over with the new ball, Ngam saw himself cut square for six by Crookes and in his next over, after a fielding error had gifted Easterns three overthrows to give Crookes an all-run four, the right-hander cut him to the boundary backward of square to go to his ton.
Without three of their pace kingpins, EP's attack was proving desperately short of penetration and it was no surprise that the only other scalp they managed to secure came from a run out. Crookes and De Bruyn eventually attempted one sharp single too many at a time when it had become unnecessary and Graham Grace dispatched an irritated Crookes for 117 with a direct hit from cover point.
Just six more were needed and De Bruyn got the lot off the first two balls of the next over, from Peterson, to take his team to exactly 276 for five and his own score to an unbeaten 71, ensuring Easterns picked up 15 points for the victory.