In a second successive season that went down to the wire, the Highveld Lions tracked down the pace-setting Cape Cobras to pip them by winning the last of their 10 games against third-placed Warriors in Potchefstroom, North West, this week.
While the Cobras, who hit the front from the first game of the 4-Day Franchise Series, found their title chances stymied by a draw against the Dolphins on an unresponsive pitch in muggy Pietermaritzburg, the Lions did their part by winning their last match of the season against their Eastern Cape visitors.
The victory – the Lions’ fourth in succession in their last four games of the tournament, matching the Cobras’ record from the first four games of the competition – was anything but straightforward as it was a race against time that saw spinner Wihan Lubbe clean bowl tailender Sithembile Langa with just nine balls left in the match as dusk settled in.
The victory meant a title first for the new partnership of coach and captain Enoch Nkwe and Temba Bavuma, the former adding his second championship of the domestic season after winning the inaugural Mzansi Super League T20 competition late last year.
Below are captain Bavuma’s thoughts on the key moments of their campaign, which proved decisive in winning the title:
‘Cookie’ doesn’t crumble
Stephen Cook got a big 100, 190-odd (188 from 310 balls) in our first game (against the Warriors) in Port Elizabeth. That was important because we won the toss and decided to field.
Obviously, it was quite a surprise to everyone outside the team and we did get a bit of flak and criticism for that. So Cookie being able to go on and get that big score really put the Warriors under pressure coming into their second innings.
Lubbe provides turning point in Paarl
Coming up against an in-form Cobras team, we lost the toss and asked to bat with the ball nipping around because of the overhead conditions. But Lubbe was able to get a big one for the team (101, 181 balls, five fours and six sixes), which set us up in the first innings. We won that game and everyone believes that was the turning point for us.
Nicky van den Bergh and Dominic Hendricks go big against the Titans in Benoni
This was another key game for us to win and Van den Bergh and Hendricks’ big partnership (390 for the fifth wicket, with the former going on to score 217 and the latter 197) on a tough, up-and-down wicket really broke the Titans down.
‘Big partnership? Hold our beers!’ say Bjorn Fortuin and Delano Potgieter
Fortuin and Potgieter broke the partnership record for the seventh wicket with their 301 (Fortuin 157 not out and Potgieter 145 on franchise debut) in our last game against the Warriors in Potch. It was obviously the last game of the season, one we had to win.
It’s hard to win in Potch and, having batted first, we were in dire straits after the first session of the match and teetering on something like 90 for six (96/6) when they came together.
Somehow, we managed to get just less than 450. We’d spoken about character and grit among ourselves in the team and that partnership really displayed it.