Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa
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ENG-L in SL (1)
Ranji Trophy (4)
WI 4-Day (1)
SA Tri-Series (1)
It looked a miserable brute of a pitch, an ugly stretch of sad, scorched, squashed earth scarred with strange skew stripes. Who knew what lurked beneath as the Warriors and the South Australia Redbacks prepared to play the second semi-final of the Champions League T20 Centurion on Saturday.
When the second delivery of the match blipped off the edge of Ashwell Prince's clumsily offered bat and into Daniel Harris' hands at gully, worst fears worsened.
Never mind that the man who bowled it, Shaun Tait, had no doubt been growling grimly in a dark corner somewhere since Tuesday, when he missed the game against Guyana with an elbow issue. Never mind that the ball had blitzed past Prince at an obscene 151.4kmph. The pitch was still the subject of malevolent mutterings in the second over, when Colin Ingram drove Aaron O'Brien for four, pulled him for six, and cut him for another boundary.
In fact, it was only in the next over that the pitch's bona fides were accepted. Tait swooped in to Davy Jacobs, unleashed a wickedly swinging delivery at 147kmph, and had his follow-through undone as the missile came screaming back past the non-striker's stumps at boot height on its way to the sightscreen.
Jacobs, all gangly and slight, does not look like a man physically equipped to inflict grievous bodily harm on a cricket ball. But, as was the case with the pitch, appearances can be deceiving. Back bounced Tait with his next delivery, this one hissing towards its target at 151kmph. From somewhere Jacobs found the time to steal a step to the off side and murder the ball over midwicket for six.
Tait resorted to a slower ball before roaring once more unto the breach. Another boundary tore through the on-side as Jacobs again employed sleight-of-foot to play the stroke from outside his off-stump.
By the time Jacobs sent a ball from Harris into the stratosphere and was caught and bowled at - yes, folks - square leg, he had scored 61 off 41 balls and reclaimed the mantle of the tournament's top run-scorer.
The emphatic cricket played on the pitch inevitably seeped into the outfield, where South Australia dropped three catches, but also clung to a clutch of spectacular grabs.
Callum Ferguson carved his nugget-y niche in the face of a fearsome bowling and fielding performance by the Warriors, who have learnt in recent times what it takes to win trophies. Playing with a swagger that could knock the tattoos off a sailor at five paces, the South Africans refused to let their opponents into the game. Ferguson earned the respect of all who bowled to him. But he couldn't do it all on his own; Daniel Christian's 19 was South Australia's next best effort. It was a long way behind Ferguson's in every sense.
For some, the most outrageous moment of the night came in the 11th over of the South Australia's innings, when Nicky Boje did what only his best friends surely thought him capable of, and turned the ball damn near square. It spat past Ferguson's outside edge, past the diving Mark Boucher, who didn't try to hide his astonishment, and all the way over the boundary.
The drama even spilled onto the grass banks, where a youngster wearing a Blue Bulls rugby jersey made rude acquaintance with a batted ball. He was carefully lifted onto his father's lap and sat silently holding an ice pack to his head.
After the match, South Australia put aside the disappointment of losing for the first time in the tournament - and when it mattered most - by presenting the bruised but otherwise unhurt boy with one of their playing shirts and a helmet.
Like the well-mannered kid he was, he said thank you and duly donned his prizes. But as soon as the Aussies were out of sight he whipped off the new kit and reverted to his rugby gear.
The Bulls, you see, tend to win big games.