With the preceding 2019/20 cricket season having been curtailed a week early due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the start of the new 2020/21 season provisionally postponed to mid-January for the same reason, this preseason friendly against Western Province CC at the Wally Wilson Oval in Rondebosch represented the Cape Town First XI’s first outing since mid-March.
Although the visitors elected to field first upon winning the toss, early-season pitch conditions notwithstanding it was soon apparent that this would be a day for the batsmen. A sharp reflex effort at slip by William Hantam in grabbing a deflection off the keeper, brought the first wicket quickly – but thereafter the bowlers found the going difficult. Seven fours and a six were consequently struck during the initial ten-over PowerPlay, by which point the home side was cruising nicely at 53-1, Jaryd Walsh and Lehan Botha adding 41 for the second wicket in eight overs.
There was some respite for Cape Town when Botha was then unluckily bowled by left-armer Dominic Miles, the ball ballooning off the pad to roll back onto the stumps. That afforded the visitors the opportunity to tighten things up a bit, and new recruit off-spinner Dewald Botha then built on this by removing Walsh too shortly thereafter, having restricted his earlier free scoring to just seven singles over the next six overs. Thus, by shortly after the first drinks break, the visitors were well on their way to pulling things back nicely at 76-3 after 17 overs.
It was a process that might even have been completed had Derek Mitchell been held off a sharp chance offered to slip immediately after arriving at the crease, or if WPCC skipper Gavin Kaplan had been held off a slashed drive to backward point when 18*. Botha was the unlucky bowler in both instances, but with neither chance accepted, the pair set about the task of re-establishing the home team’s dominance. Conceding just one boundary in their first ten overs together, Cape Town nevertheless fought a decent enough rear-guard action to delay the WPCC hundred until the 25th over, but with wickets not falling, the run rate invariably began climbing. Kaplan and Mitchell thus posted their fifty partnership from 80 balls, and briefly either side of the second drinks break Mitchell went over to the offensive, striking two fours and a six.
Botha then prised him out before he could inflict any further damage, but there was to be no relief for Cape Town this time. By now Kaplan was well established at the crease, and in the next over reached a patient fifty that had included just two fours, but no fewer than 34 singles. Thereafter he stepped up his scoring rate considerably, dominating a run-a-ball stand of 59 with Ridaah Isaacs that set up WPCC for a big finish, 46 of their stand coming in their last six overs together. Kaplan fell to another well-held catch at that point to forego what seemed to be a beckoning hundred, having struck six eventual fours in his 86 from 100 balls. However, that was just the cue for Isaacs to cut loose, hitting three sixes in quick succession as he and Shawn Dyson finished matters well for WPCC, clubbing 48 from the final 6½ overs. With Isaacs thus finishing with an unbeaten 44 from just 35 balls, and Dyson striking three fours of his own, it was a finishing burst that boosted the home team’s total to beyond the 250-mark – and made them the favourites to take the win.
That ultimately proved to be true, especially after middle-order batsman Joffvre Duminy had been injured in the field and was thus unavailable to bat, but it was happily not entirely a straight-forward affair. Veteran opener William Hantam produced another typically boundary-rich knock to start with, striking five fours and a six off the first seven overs of the Cape Town reply, but once he went the visitors fell increasingly behind the asking rate. Debutant First XI opener Craig Jeffery impressed with a solid knock that stretched into the 29th over, adding 53 in 13 overs with a fluent Mathew Goles (27 from 37 balls).
Once introduced into the attack following Goles’s dismissal though, the home team’s spinners then smothered the scoring rate – claiming two for 19 in a telling seven-over period. Dewald Botha hit three quick fours trying to wrest back the initiative, but holed out to Ian Hopton’s off-breaks in the process. With a hole left in their middle order, it was thus left to Brendan Young to carry the fight to the WPCC bowling, shouldered with the daunting responsibility of scoring the bulk of the 107 still needed from the last eleven overs. He tried manfully though, beginning by striking a six and a four off each of the next two overs. With Nicholas Scott providing solid support from the other end, and hitting a four and a six of his own in a run-a-ball knock, the pair added 53 together in 6½ overs. Even then though, their efforts made little impression on the required rate, having only reduced the equation marginally to a still imposing 54 wanted from the last five overs.
With no real support left for Young (Dods was also nursing an injury sustained while fielding, and had dropped himself down to number ten in the line-up), a Cape Town win was thus never realistically on the cards. Young continued swinging to the end though, reaching a 49-ball fifty in the 47th over. It was seamer Siya Plaaitjies who bore the brunt of these parting salvoes, conceding 36 from the four overs that comprised his second spell. However, his perseverance also brought him two of the last three visiting wickets, and he also helped effect the run out that claimed the third.
Thus Cape Town ultimately ended comfortably short of what was always going to be a challenging target, as four of their top five had made starts without emulating the patience to build a big innings that Kaplan had demonstrated earlier. Still, it was nevertheless a decent batting performance for a Cape Town side that was not at full strength yet – an achievement all the more impressive considering the length of their lay-off. With the number of reported COVID infections on the rise once more, it remains uncertain whether there will even be a club cricket season to follow, but it was a decent workout for all concerned regardless.