The 4-Day Franchise Series ended in thrilling fashion, with Lions claiming the 2017-18 title on a nail-biting final evening in Potchefstroom. With five overs lost to rain on the final day of a game that Lions had to win, and Yaseen Vallie and Sinethemba Qeshile adding 85 for the fourth wicket, Warriors had almost reached safety before Nono Pongolo and Nandre Burger made inroads into their tail in the afternoon. There were just two wickets standing when the last hour was signalled at 5.15pm. Thomas Kaber held on, limpet-like, at one end, but when the new ball was taken after the 80th over, Lions broke through. Burger had Basheeru-Deen Walters caught behind, and in fading light Wihahn Lubbe then struck with his third ball, beating Sithembile Langa's forward defence to spark wild celebrations.
The eventual result would not have been possible without a record-breaking first-innings stand between Bjorn Fortuin and Delano Potgieter, who helped their side recover from a perilous 96 for 6. Fortuin's 183 was his highest score in Franchise cricket - and just nine short of his best ever effort with the bat in all first-class cricket - while Potgieter's 145 was the highest score of his career in just his 12th first-class game. Potgieter then took 4 for 81 to secure the first-innings lead, and Kagiso Rapulana's 114 in the second dig allowed Lions to declare at 292 for 9. Warriors had almost reached a position of safety when, on the final day, they were only five down after 4pm. But then came Lions' match-winning, title-sealing burst in the closing moments.
That result meant that Zubayr Hamza's magical double-hundred on the penultimate day of Cape Cobras' game against Dolphins in Pietermaritzburg was not enough to secure the title for his team, who had led the points table for virtually the entire competition. Hamza's 201 was his maiden double at franchise level and the second of his first-class career, and allowed Cobras to declare their innings at 523 for 7. On a flat pitch, Keshav Maharaj's 2 for 217 were the best figures for Dolphins, but while the pitch might have been benign the weather was anything but, and overs were lost to bad light on every day of the game. The lost overs forced the game into a draw, with Dolphins' top four all passing fifty before the captains shook hands midway through the final afternoon after bad light stopped play once again.
In Benoni, Titans and Knights were finally put out of their misery early on the final day after their match was abandoned due to a wet outfield at Willowmoore Park. All three previous days were also affected for the same reason, with players on both sides left frustrated by the conditions underfoot in what was their last match of the first-class season.
The final decision by umpires Abdoellah Steenkamp and Johan Cloete meant there was no cricket played at all after all three previous days had to be abandoned - the main problem area being the bowlers' run-up. The shared points from the game meant the hosts and defending champions Titans, as well as the Knights, ended in the bottom three.
On the national radar
Hamza's double-hundred should be enough for him to be retained in South Africa's squad for the upcoming Tests against Sri Lanka in February, while in the same game his team-mate Vernon Philander defied the placid batting conditions to take 4 for 46 in Dolphins' first innings. At the other end of the spectrum, Maharaj bowled a whopping 56 overs for his two wickets and, given that he has also been left out of South Africa's Test playing XI in a seam-heavy attack recently, Maharaj could do with a confidence boost.
Confidence shouldn't be a problem for Temba Bavuma, who registered scores of 22 and 48 in Lions' victory, but more importantly captained the side to the 4-Day title.
Bjorn Fortuin has made more of a splash with his left-arm spin than his batting in domestic cricket of late, opening the bowling for Paarl Rocks during the Mzansi Super League, but his knock against Warriors turned the game around and he was rightfully named Player of the Match in their title-sealing 84-run win. He also ended the season with 23 first-class wickets at 22.78 to his name.
Over the course of the season, however, Cobras captain Dane Piedt stood head and shoulders over the other bowlers across the franchises. He ended the season with 54 wickets at 27.74, 20 more scalps than second placed Dane Paterson.