First XI vs Western Province CC at Rondebosch, 14 Jan 2023

There is considerable advantage in never knowing when you’re beaten, and Western Province Cricket Club demonstrated that in spades at the Wally Wilson Oval.  Seemingly dead and buried at 61-7 in pursuit of a distant victory target of 194, a fighting eighth-wicket stand of 119 in barely 25 overs resurrected the home side to earn them a narrow win over Cape Town in a tight finish.  Indeed, with log leaders and reigning champions Durbanville simultaneously losing their own match, the result also moved WPCC up into first spot on the Premier League points table.  While the season has some way to go yet, one can’t help but wonder if a changing of the guard might perhaps be in store for Western Province club cricket for the first time in a while.

Certainly there was little initial sign of the heartbreak that lay in store for Cape Town, as after electing to bat first, their opening pair of William Hantam and Tristan Coetzee made merry progress, striking eight boundaries from the first seven overs to cruise easily to 47 without loss.  However, a dubious lbw decision at this juncture accounted for Coetzee (21 from 18 balls), and largely broke the visitors’ forward momentum.  The home side’s provincial left-arm spinner Kyle Simmonds took advantage to bag two further scalps in a tight bowling spell, and though Hantam stayed long enough to reach his third half-century of the season (from 66 balls, with eight fours), once he fell shortly thereafter the innings was left hanging in the balance at 98-4 after 23 overs.

Fortunately for Cape Town, next man in Nathan Schultz has a liking for WPCC bowling, having already taken an undefeated 88 runs off them in their two previous meetings, including a maiden Cape Town First XI career fifty.  Picking right up where he had left off, it might’ve been a short-lived cameo had a lofted on-drive when 12* done more than just brush the leaping fingertips of a fielder, but Schultz survived to mount an energetic counter-attack that took him beyond a 51-ball fifty to his highest score to date in Cape Town colours – his 64 from 75 balls including a six and seven fours before he finally succumbed while hitting out in the closing PowerPlay.  There was not much in the way of scoring support on offer for him though, and with opening bowler Luke Petersen striking twice in six deliveries and his new-ball partner Alex Draai and off-spinner Givon Christian also chipping in to clean up the tail, the visitors were bowled out just shy of the 200-run mark with five overs left unused.

Given that the home side eventually got over the line with their last man at the crease, one can only wistfully wonder if things might’ve ended differently for Cape Town had they batted out those last five overs, but hindsight has 20/20 vision and there was no indication that it would play any role when Brendan Young then struck with the new ball in each of his opening two overs to dismiss the WPCC opening pair and forge a near-perfect start for his side at 13-2.  Seamer Nicholas Scott then followed that up with an excellent spell of 7-0-10-3 to dominate the home side’s middle order, and when visiting skipper Geoff Dods also chipped in with two quick scalps of his own, a cock-a-hoop Cape Town side against all expectations had the home reeling against the ropes at 61-7 after 20 overs.

Experience has shown that few sides have the gumption to make a fight of it from such a position, and with 111 still needed at more than five to the over and the number nine bat already at the crease, Cape Town rightfully had every expectation of securing even a bonus-point win.  Except that somehow they couldn’t make any further progress against eighth-wicket pair Dan da Costa and Justin Behrens.  Behrens hit a defiant six and two fours early on, but that could easily have been absorbed had da Costa’s storming counter-attack not happened.  First hitting Young out of the attack, he then turned his attentions to First XI newcomer Storm Kotze, clobbering the off-spinner for three consecutive sixes, and four in total across two overs, to fly passed a run-a-ball fifty, sending WPCC into the final PowerPlay with all the momentum.  Veteran off-spinner Matthew Olsen, playing his 300th match for the Cape Town First XI, achieved minor miracles in keeping things fairly quiet from his end by conceding just 24 from his ten overs, bowled entirely during the partnership, but it made little difference as da Costa continued finding a steady stream of boundaries from the other end.  The hundred partnership was thus raised from just 133 balls (da Costa’s share being 66), and suddenly just 20 were still needed from the last seven overs.

It had been a stunning reversal of fortunes, but the drama wasn’t quite over yet.  With his captain throwing opening bowler Darren Rolfe back into the fray, the latter got one through Behrens, who all the while had been patiently turning over the strike with a steady stream of singles, to finally break the stand.  Their 119-run effort represented the third-highest stand that WPCC has achieved against Cape Town for any wicket in the past quarter-century, and the second-highest ninth-wicket stand conceded by Cape Town during that same period.  That all mattered far less though than Rolfe then sending Cape Town’s hopes soaring again by trapping Petersen in front next ball, bringing the home’s side’s last man to the crease with 14 runs still wanted.  Da Costa was having none of it though, and ensuring that number eleven bat Draai had just one ball to face, he ended things with a flourish of boundaries to secure the one-wicket win that meant so much to the hosts.  Man of the moment da Costa had done the job against all odds, finishing with an unbeaten 92 from just 71 balls that included seven sixes and six fours.  It was truly the stuff that schoolboy dreams are made of.

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