Result summaryThe Dolphins lost to the Lions in the domestic T20 competition final ten days ago but got their own back by ensuring the Lions are out of the running for the first-class trophy. The Dolphins registered an 86-run win at the Wanderers and stand a strong chance of qualifying for the competition's final. They lie second in Pool A, 1.16 points behind the Knights. The top team from the group will feature in a five-day end-of-season finale against the top team from Pool B.
Matters were evenly poised after the first innings before Keshav Maharaj turned things in the Dolphins favour, with bat and ball. The Dolphins posted 375 in their first innings, thanks to Eathan Bosch's 104 and 40s from Keegan Petersen, Marques Ackerman and Khaya Zondo, but the Lions matched them almost toe-to-toe with 362 in reply. Opener Ryan Rickelton scored the bulk of the Lions runs with 194 and Reeza Hendricks was the only other batsmen to score a half-century. Maharaj took 6 for 126 to rip through the Lions middle and lower order.
Then, Maharaj scored a 62-ball 89 to help the Dolphins recover from 96 for 5, thanks to incisive new ball bowling from Beuran Hendricks and Lutho Sipamla, and set the Lions a target of 249, with most of the final day to get it. Maharaj was in action again and studded the Lions second innings with wickets, taking 7 for 48, to finish the match with 13 wickets and give the Dolphins a convincing win. The Lions' innings featured three ducks, while two more batsmen failed to get into the double figures.
The other matches in this round were drawn; the game between the Cape Cobras and the Warriors in Cape Town was affected by rain, while the Titans and Knights involved in a high-scoring contest in Centurion.
Only 15 wickets fell in total at Newlands as the Cobras piled on 513 for 6, thanks to a career-best 216 not out from Kyle Verreynne and 107 from George Linde, who recorded his fourth first-class ton. Anrich Nortje, Glenton Stuurman and Tshepo Ntuli took two wickets each as the Warriors used nine bowlers in an effort to dismiss more Cobras' batsmen. In response, the Warriors were 259 for 9 with lower-order half-centuries from Ayabulela Gqamane and Marco Jansen saving their blushes. Had weather permitted, the Cobras may have been able to push for an innings win, but as things stand, they have not recorded a victory in their last 15 first-class games.
At SuperSport Park, the Knights took advantage when they bowled the Titans out for 263 on the first day. Neil Brand's 107 was the best resistance against rampant Migael Pretorius and Mbulelo Budaza, who shared seven wickets between them. Former Titan Farhaan Behardien then stuck it to his old team-mates with 142, and helped by half-centuries from Raynard van Tonder and Shaun von Berg, got the Knights 151 runs ahead. They declared on 414 for 9. But then, new Test captain Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram set the tone with an opening stand of 213. Elgar was dismissed for 90 but Markram went on to score a career-best 204 not out and hands were shaken soon after he reached the milestone.
The Titans are on top of Pool B and play the Lions in their final fixture. The Warriors lie 13.98 points and the Cobras 24.48 points behind, which leaves the possibility of any of these three teams reaching the final.
On the national radarRuns for Markram and Elgar bode well for South Africa's opening stand although the Test team does not have any confirmed fixtures in the near future to take advantage of that form. If anything, Markram's solidifying of his spot at the top of the run-charts likely means that Pieter Malan and Sarel Erwee may not get much of a look in at Test level, especially as Raynard van Tonder continues to push for a call-up. van Tonder is second on the batsmen's list, 125 runs behind Markram, and has added a second fifty to the two hundreds he has already scored this season.
Verreynne's knock has also come at a crucial time. Faf du Plessis' retirement has left a hole in South Africa's middle order and Verreynne is one of the top contenders to fill it. His presence as a back-up wicketkeeper could come in handy, but as things stand, he is making a case to be picked as a batsman alone.
Few would have taken Maharaj's designs on the national captaincy seriously but he has proved his worth to South Africa's senior core with the way he has performed domestically. After leading the Dolphins to the T20 final, he has almost single-handedly kept them in the running for the first-class title. Maharaj's 26 wickets are two behind the leader von Berg but Maharaj has played two fewer games and his economy of 2.63 illustrates how miserly he has been.
Pretorius, who was part of South Africa's Test squad that played Sri Lanka, is the top seamer in the competition, with 24 wickets followed by Jansen, who went wicketless in this round. South Africa's bowling stocks appear healthy with all of Sipamla, Hendricks and Wiaan Mulder taking five wickets each in the Lions' match against the Dolphins and Sisanda Magala bowling 27 overs in the game is further proof of his commitment to full fitness.
Top PerformersRickelton and Behardien's innings headlined this round for different reasons. Rickelton collected just 49 runs in seven innings in the T20 competition and appeared out of sorts but found form again with a big hundred on his home ground. Behardien, who is 37, made an important statement about the value of experience in the domestic game. South Africa are about to restructure the system and eliminate the franchise tier, a move that will see 75 cricketers lose their jobs, and the fear is that some of those will be players reaching the end of their careers. Behardien has proved why it would be unwise as not only do the stalwarts continue to churn out performances of quality but they set an example for younger players, which South African cricket needs.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent