Lions register first win as Markram returns to form
Josh Richards and Dominic Hendricks scored centuries for the Lions as they chased down a record total
The defending champions, the Lions, registered their first win of this season's competition by chasing down a record total against the Knights at the Wanderers. Their 336 for 6 beats the previous best, 310 for 8 by Australia in the 2011/12 season, and finished off a remarkable comeback for the hosts, who were behind by 98 runs in the first innings.
The Knights were kept to 300 in their first innings, thanks largely to Sisanda Magala's 6 for 60 and held together by half-centuries from Grant Mokoena and Migael Pretorius, who then took 4 for 40 against his former franchise. The Lions never quite got their reply going and went from 47 for 5 to 202 all out. That gave the Knights a perfect platform to bat the Lions out of the match and when they stretched the lead to 283, with six wickets in hand they may have thought they were on track. But the Knights lost 6 for 44 and set the Lions 334 to win. Centuries from openers Josh Richards and Dominic Hendricks, who shared a stand of 256, took the Lions to the brink and the middle order finished off. Despite the victory, the Lions remain more than 20 points behind the Knights in Pool B. Also on the Highveld, the Warriors chased 218 to beat the Titans at SuperSport Park, to earn their first win of the competition and deny Aiden Markram victory despite his twin centuries in the match.
After six Covid-19 related absences from the first two rounds, the Warriors were back to full strength for this fixture and the difference in morale and performance showed. They bowled the Titans out for 320 and then piled on 392 in their own first innings.
By the time the Titans erased the 72-run deficit, three of their top four were dismissed and they had to rely on Markram and the middle order to set the Warriors a competitive target. Only one batsmen other than Markram got past 30, and the Warriors were required to chase 218. They made tricky work of it, but won by three wickets to close the gap between themselves and the Titans to less than 18 points in Pool A.
The Cobras lie at the bottom of the pool and are the only team not to have won a match after the first three rounds. They held on for the draw against the Dolphins in Durban after failing to bowl the Dolphins out in either innings and being set 295 runs to win. The Dolphins declared their first innings closed on 389 for 8, built on a century from Khaya Zondo. In reply, Tony de Zorzi top-scored for the Cobras with 58 as they were dismissed for 312, 77 runs behind. Fifties from the Dolphins top three and a scoring rate of 4.34 runs to the over saw them declare again on 217 for 4 on the final day, setting up a thrilling last two sessions. They had 62 overs at the Cobras, who needed to score at close to five runs an over to win. The Dolphins might have fancied their chances when they had the Cobras 66 for 3, but Pieter Malan and Aviwe Mgijma dug in, and though both of them were eventually dismissed, the Dolphins could not nip out the last four wickets. The Dolphins are also at the bottom of their pool, Pool B, but are less than 10 points behind the Lions.
On the National Radar
Markram's return to form could not have come at a better time, with the Test series against Sri Lanka a month away and decisions to be made about both the opening spot and the captaincy. He scored 149 and 121, almost 45% of the Titans total runs in the match, and sits in second place on the overall run charts. Less encouraging were the performances of Dean Elgar (20 and 6) and Theunis de Bruyn, who bagged a pair. While both Elgar and de Bruyn have centuries to their names in the tournament so far, Elgar has gone to add to half-centuries to that but de Bruyn's three ducks and a 13 may see him slip down the order of preference. Also of interest is two-time Test cap Senuran Muthusamy's performance for the Dolphins. He was promoted to opening the batting and scored 79 and 56 while also eight wickets in the match (four in each innings) with his left-arm spin. Muthusamy now sits in joint fifth place
on the wicket-charts and though South Africa are not short of left-arm slow bowlers, having an all-round option is always handy.
Though Markram has all but secured the Test opening spot, Sarel Erwee continues to impress and remains the leading run-scorer. Erwee registered a third score of 50-plus in his third match, with 56 in the second innings to help the Dolphins set up their victory push. No.3 batsmen Keegan Petersen also scored 56 while in the first innings Zondo's hundred will be noted with interest, especially after his struggles for form since being on the fringes of the national side.
Other batsmen who showed signs of strong form are Dominic Hendricks, who scored a second century in successive matches, Richards, whose hundred was his first at franchise level and Sinethemba Qeshile of the Warriors, who scored 97.
With Tabraiz Shamsi on international duty, the Knights' Pretorius is now the leading bowler with 16 wickets to his name. Warriors' left-armer Marco Jansen is in joint-fourth place and took seven wickets against the Titans while exciting young quick Lifa Ntanzi, claimed 3 for 51 in the first innings for the Dolphins against the Cobras.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent