Barring freak results in the last round of the SuperSport Series matches next week, the Diamond Eagles won the four-day title over the weekend when they beat the KZN Dolphins by 83 runs in Bloemfontein.
With 111.80 points, the Eagles are well clear of the second-placed Eastern Cape Warriors (89.88) and the Western Cape Cobras (84.98). The Dolphins, who had been occupying second place for a number of weeks, slipped to fourth with 79.04 points.
Electing to bat first, the Eagles, riding on an 81 by Ryan Bailey and 64 by Adrian McLaren, piled up 310 before making use of helpful bowling conditions to restrict the Dolphins for 158. With Ryan McLaren taking 3 for 19, the Eagles looked all set for another decent performance with the bat. However, Johann Louw, the Middlessex seamer, wrecked the Eagles's top-order by taking 6 for 43 to dismiss them for only 88.
With 241 to get and plenty of time on their hands, the Dolphins lost their first two wickets with only 14 on the board before McLaren played wrecker-in-chief again with a six-for to dismiss the visiting side for 158 second time round as well and help his side take 18.2 points from the match.
The two Cape teams, the Warriors and the Cobras, will be battling it out for second place next week after posting impressive wins . Vernon Philander will be pushing for a return to the South African team after taking nine wickets in the Cobras' six-wicket victory over the Easterns Titans in Paarl. The Titans, who will not be able to defend their title, were left ruing a horrible performance with the bat after allowing Philander (5 for 13) to skittle them out for only 148 after having only conceded a 50-run lead. Justin Kemp was the sturdy oak of the Cobras first-innings of 348 with his 63, while opener Andrew Puttick made 66.
The Highveld Lions can also blame a second-innings batting collapse for their defeat by nine wickets at the hands of the Warriors in East London. Stephen Cook scored an impressive 152 and Jimmy Kgamadi chipped in with a useful 60 on debut to take their side to 36 despite a five-wicket haul by Juan Theron.
The Warriors batted solidly in reply, declaring at 392 for nine. Zander de Bruyn, the Warriors' captain, batted for over six and a half hours to score his 90, shared useful partnerships along the way to set his team up with a 50-run lead. The Lions then collapsed to 143 allout in their second thanks to the inspired pace and spin combination of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Robin Peterson. The duo shared eight wickets between them and left their side needing only 113 for a win. De Bruyn scored a fluent unbeaten half-century and together with Michael Smith, who scored 49*, took their side past the target with an unbroken 102-run second wicket partnership.
Player of the Week
There may still be doubts over all-rounder Vernon Philander at international level, but the 22-year-old has been in cracking form with the ball of late. He decimated the Easterns Titans batting with his astonishing figures of five for 13 off 15 overs, which followed his seven for 64 that set up an amazing win for the Cobras over the Highveld Lions last week. Of strong built, the former South Africa Under-19 star is not particularly fast but he hits the bat hard and can have devastating effect on bowlers with his powerful hitting in the lower middle-order. He did seem to freeze on occasions in the ICC World Twenty20, but his talent is undeniable and could flourish now that he has some confidence.