Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town
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The race for the 2018-19 4-Day Franchise Series title was thrown wide open after Warriors stunned Cape Cobras at Newlands, winning by six wickets. A pair of first-innings 70s from Colin Ackermann and Sinethemba Qeshile gave Warriors a vital 104-run lead, after which Simon Harmer's 7 for 89, his 24th career five-for, set up a tight finish, with Warriors set a target of 206 to win.
Dane Piedt struck four times with his offspin, but Warriors raced to victory through a blistering 91-run unbroken partnership between captain JJ Smuts and the 19-year-old Qeshile. They compiled their stand at 6.42 per over, with Smuts hitting 10 fours and a six in his 70 and Qeshile reaching fifty for the second time in the match, from 49 deliveries. With two rounds remaining, the Cobras' defeat, coupled with Lions' win, narrowed the gap at the top of the table to just over 1.6 points. The result also kept alive the Warriors' slim title hopes - they are now just over 27 points behind the leaders.
Nandre Burger ended with a career-best five-for as the Lions defeated defending champions Titans to win their derby clash in record fashion at Willowmoore Park, in Benoni, on Thursday. Burger took 5 for 36 in in 14.4 overs to complete an emphatic innings-and-239-run victory that was not only the biggest one ever for the Lions in their history and third-biggest ever since the inception of franchise cricket in 2004/05, but also saw the gap at the competition summit reduced significantly.
Burger's match-sealing effort came after mammoth innings from Nicky van den Bergh and Dominic Hendricks had given Lions complete control of the game. Van den Bergh recorded the first double-century of the season, reaching an unbeaten unbeaten 217 - a fixture record individual score and career-best - as the hosts amassed 593 for 5 declared.
Hendricks also reached a career-best score, batting ten-and-a-half hours for his 453-ball 197. The pair put on a stand of 390 for the fifth wicket, another fixture record but not a competition best after it fell three runs short of the unbroken 393 shared by JP Duminy and Dane Vilas for the Cape Cobras against the Lions in Potchefstroom back in 2014-15. Their stand left the Titans staring at a likely defeat, particularly after Chris Morris, who had scored 97 out of their first-innings 229, had to sit out the second innings due to a finger injury. Titans folded for 125.
Rain and bad light ultimately proved to be the main winner as the encounter between Dolphins and Knights ended in a draw at the City Oval in Pietermaritzburg. The inclement weather, which led to no play on day two and just over 50 overs squeezed in on day three, again briefly returned on the final day, allowing for only 72 overs to be sent down. To their credit, both teams tried to effect a result, with three declarations before the visitors finished the game on 181 for 3 in pursuit of a target of 295. Heading into the final day, only one innings had been completed, and after Knights declared their innings at 206 for 9, Dolphins went after quick runs. Sarel Erwee and captain Khaya Zondo both reached fifty, with Zondo striking 10 fours in his 45-ball 59 before declaring the innings at 146 for 3. That left Knights with a target of 295 to win, with Raynard van Tonder reaching 60 and Keegan Petersen striking an unbeaten 71 before the captains shook hands on a draw.
On the national radar
Chris Morris was somewhat surprisingly left out of South Africa's squad for the first two ODIs against Pakistan, and the allrounder appeared to have been further set back when he suffered a laceration to his finger in the field for Titans. The injury did not stop Morris from bowling on the third day, although he did not come out to bat in Titans' second innings.
Morris' fitness has been one of the main factors in his limited chances for South Africa in recent times: he picked up a back injury at last year's IPL, and, more, recently struggled with a strained hamstring. South Africa coach Ottis Gibson has suggested that the Proteas' search for an allrounder at No. 7 to balance out their side is still open, and Morris could yet be drafted into the ODI squad for the final three games against Pakistan - but time is running short for Morris to force his way back into contention for a spot in South Africa's World Cup squad.
While Keegan Petersen maintained his place at the top of the competition batting charts, and Nicky van den Bergh and Dominic Hendricks deserve a mention for sheer weight of runs in their career-best knocks, it was a pair of innings from teenager Sinethemba Qeshile that turned heads in the latest round of the 4-day Series. Qeshile turned 19 in October last year, the day after he had scored back to back fifties against a strong Lions attack containing three Sout Africa players. Since then, Qeshile has bounced back from a pair to fall one run short of his maiden first-class hundred against a Knights attack spearheaded by Duanne Olivier. In his first full franchise season for Warriors, he has now scored 500 runs at an average of 50, and looks a very promising prospect, especially after his latest knocks to help beat Cobras.