In what has been a season of close finishes – two of Cape Town’s Limited Over matches thus far were decided by one-run margins, and a third by one wicket – this encounter against the University of the Western Cape at the Boon Wallace Oval followed the classic tradition of low-scoring matches, producing a heart-stopping thrill ride of its own as yet another game went down to the wire.
Played in unpleasant blustery, cold and overcast conditions, the home team faced opponents who had notched up six consecutive victories coming into the game, thereby storming to second place on the Premier League log to seriously threaten a Durbanville side that had held the lead since Round Five, but was now starting to falter in the home straight through what would soon be four defeats in their last six matches. It therefore looked none too promising for Cape Town when, after electing to bat first, they were summarily bundled out for just 111, with a full 18 overs left unused – especially as the lowest total that they had managed to defend successfully in a Limited Overs match throughout the previous 21 seasons was their 142 against Western Province CC earlier this season (although they have since February 2006 twice defended targets smaller than 112 in the T20 format).
Nevertheless, such outlier results served notice to anyone who cared to see, that the Plumstead-based outfit in recent times has seldom been a pushover – especially when fielding last (over the last four seasons they have won twice as many such games in the 50-over format as they have lost). And so it proved again too, when the students commenced their run chase in the 45-minute period before lunch now available due to Cape Town’s rapid batting demise. First opening bowler Brendan Young struck twice in the opening three deliveries of his second over to force the visitors onto the back foot from the outset at 1 for two. Not to be outdone, his usual new ball partner Darren Rolfe then himself grabbed two further scalps in his opening nine deliveries without conceding a run, leaving the visitors’ meal rather less palatable (probably not helped by a load-shedding power cut either) at 20-4 once the players did leave the field for the interval.
Matters didn’t improve immediately for the students upon the resumption of play either, as Young gobbled up a reflex return catch off the first ball of his second over after the break to polish off the last of the UWC top five, leaving the visitors in total disarray at 25-5. However, their opponents hadn’t forced their way up to become title challengers without matching ability, and with plenty of time and overs to spare, the students wisely rode out the storm until the home side was obliged to introduce its support bowling into the attack. With veteran Romano Ramoo then taking on the back-up bowlers while his partner Brent Johnson solidly held up his end, the students’ fortunes quickly improved from there as the runs began to flow. Within nine overs their stand swelled from six to 50, and the momentum had switched sides completely.
Indeed, as the sixth-wicket partnership between the two continued to 60 from 16 overs, whittling the target down to just 27 runs still needed from 21 overs, there was seemingly just one possible winner of the contest – even when Johnson was finally prised out for a patient boundaryless 19 from 54 balls. By then Cape Town skipper Geoff Dods had already been forced to commit to employing Rolfe’s last three overs in desperate search of a breakthrough, and Johnson’s dismissal thus came at a very opportune time for the home side. With Rolfe taking advantage of the opening created to knock over the new man at the crease in his final over, suddenly the students found themselves seven down, and anxiety levels started climbing once more – especially once Dods threw his final chips on the table and brought Young back for his last two overs in a do-or-die gamble.
That made it crunch time for both sides, though the visitors still held the clear advantage – the well-set Ramoo being their undoubted lynchpin for acquiring the final 15 runs still needed as Young began his final over. With no run rate considerations to worry about, all that was needed from Ramoo was to play out the over, thereby almost guaranteeing victory once both of the home side’s top two bowlers on the day had completed their ten-over allotments and couldn’t influence further events. Perhaps the pressure of his side being seven down had an undue effect on him though, and instead he tried to work the second delivery of the over through the leg side. Taking the leading edge, the ball swirled up towards square leg, where an athletic chase and difficult over-the-shoulder grab by Joffvre Duminy crucially ended Ramoo’s efforts on 46 from 70 balls, with a six and three fours.
With the game now suddenly wide open again, it was the visitors who ultimately cracked under the strain. Though soon reduced to their last-wicket pair, the students nevertheless had twelve overs in which to score the remaining twelve runs needed. However, a suicidal single attempted instead merely resulted in an inevitable run out, clinching a stunning comeback victory for Cape Town – who had knocked over the last five wickets for just 15 to snatch an improbable eleven-win win from the jaws of defeat.
The drama that was to follow was not immediately apparent earlier, as the home side’s opening bat William Hantam waded into the students’ seamers from the outset, striking a six and five fours in a run-a-ball 33. He was helped by a number of fortuitous no-balls though, and in fact both Cape Town openers were “dismissed” by these illegal deliveries. However, veteran Shabir Mallie switched ends to strike in each of the first two overs of his second spell, removing Cape Town’s top three and putting matters back on an even keel again. Thereafter the visitors tightened up their attack considerably to wrest away and maintain the subsequent initiative, with only Clinton Botha subsequently being able to contribute anything meaningful with the bat (27 off 49 balls, with a six and two fours).
Thus, once Botha fell in the 25th over, there was little else on offer from the remaining batting. With Cape Town having limped to 105-6 from the first 29 overs, the students then reintroduced lanky opening bowler Mihlali Mpongwana into the attack for the first time since his initial mauling at Hantam’s hands. The move brought a dramatically quick end to the home side’s innings, as he promptly struck twice in his first over back, and twice more in his second – thereby completing a five-for as the last four wickets fell for just five runs in less than three overs. It was a capitulation of note to a meagre total that did not promise much hope in the way of defence, but then came Young and Rolfe!