The two all-rounders shared seven wickets between them as the Lions crumbled to 142 all out after the Titans’ powerful middle-order batsmen had seen them to 187 for six.
The Lions beat the Titans in both their round-robin matches this season and must have fancied their chances of chasing 188 in good batting conditions. But this time they danced to the tune of the Titans bowlers as they lost three wickets in the first four overs and then another three in the space of nine balls midway through their innings.
Titans coach Matthew Maynard may have swum against the tide by leaving out all of his international stars, but his team remained a slick, efficient outfit on the field as they hunted down their second trophy of the summer after their success in the SuperSport Series.
Lions youngsters Jonathan Vandiar (0) and Quinton de Kock (17) could both perhaps be accused of going too hard too early as they both skied the ball into the outfield to be caught.
The dangerous De Kock had already hit two fours and a six off 10 balls but, with his captain Alviro Petersen falling just three balls previously for five as he edged Morkel and was brilliantly caught by Heino Kuhn standing up, he then tried a lofted drive and gave the Titans another wicket.
It was also another fine catch, Eden Links judging the steepler to perfection as he ran from mid-off to behind the bowler.
The Lions were 24 for three after four overs, but Neil McKenzie and Jean Symes provided a brief surge of runs as they added 50 off 34 balls.
But the home crowd’s cheers were soon silenced as leg-spinner Du Plessis came on in the 10th over.
His third delivery was the only one that misbehaved all day on another excellent Chris Scott pitch, keeping low to bowl Symes for 25 off 20 balls as the left-hander attempted a pull shot.
Dwaine Pretorius’s stay was brief. He hit his first ball from Du Plessis straight back over the bowler’s head for six and then tried the same shot two balls later, but was surprised by the googly and bowled middle stump.
McKenzie fell six balls later, bowled off the pad for 24 off 19 balls by a quicker delivery from left-arm spinner Roelof van der Merwe that went straight on, meaning there were two new batsmen at the crease with the Lions needing a daunting 106 off nine overs.
Du Plessis carried on his destructive business by removing the last two hopes of the Lions – having Chris Morris caught by a diving Alfonso Thomas for 18 and then accepting a simple return catch from Thami Tsolekile (14). It left Du Plessis with brilliant figures of 4-24 from his four overs and the bowling award.
There was some late resistance from Aaron Phangiso (19 not out) before Morkel (3-28) had Ethan O’Reilly (7) caught behind by Kuhn off a bouncer to claim the Lions’ final wicket in the penultimate over.
BRILLIANT OUTFIELD CATCH
Farhaan Behardien had hit the ball high and handsome in the closing overs to lift the Titans to 187 for six and earning himself the batting award in the process.
Behardien, who scored an unbeaten 20 off 11 balls on Friday night on his international debut, continued to court the national selectors for a place in South Africa’s T20 World Cup squad as his brilliant 42 not out off 26 balls gave the Titans a competitive total after they had been a dodgy 112 for five in the 14th over.
The Titans were sent in to bat and openers Henry Davids and Kuhn did a fine job of seeing them off to a good, fast start as they added 43 runs in three-and-a-half overs.
There had been some speculation that the Titans management would drop Davids for returning international Jacques Rudolph, but the former Bolander repaid their faith as he slashed 27 runs off 12 balls, with five fours and a six, hitting the ball beautifully through the off side.
The Lions were desperate for a breakthrough and all-rounder Morris, who has very much been their talisman this year, topping the SuperSport impact ratings, did the job by bowling Davids with the assistance of a deflection off his back pad-flap.
The Lions, with superb team-work between their focused bowlers and lively fielders, especially on the boundary, then kept chipping away as the Titans lost regular wickets.
Pakistan international Sohail Tanveer had Kuhn caught behind for 14 in the next over, and left-arm spinner Phangiso, playing against his former team, had Van der Merwe (7) well-caught by Symes on the deep midwicket boundary.
Du Plessis and Martin van Jaarsveld began to dominate in a fourth-wicket stand of 29 off 25 balls, but Morris then took a brilliant outfield catch, running in from cow corner and diving forward, to dismiss Du Plessis for 22 off a Pretorius full toss.
Captain Van Jaarsveld scored an impressive 32 off 21 balls but then drove Phangiso to Morris at deep extra cover.
The Titans had plans to dominate the 28-year-old Phangiso, but he certainly won his personal battle against his former teammates by finishing with outstanding figures of 2-14 in his four overs.
Van Jaarsveld was out midway through the 14th over and Behardien then dominated the last six overs as he slammed two fours and two sixes, the extra cover region once again being one of his main targets.
The Lions were badly disrupted by Dirk Nannes having to pull out with a hamstring strain and his replacement, O’Reilly, who has not played since the match against the Knights on March 7, had a torrid time.
Having conceded 31 runs in two overs against the Davids onslaught up front, O’Reilly returned to bowl the 16th over and was taken for 14 more runs by Behardien and the in-form Morkel.
Behardien and Morkel did the business in the closing overs as they added 42 off 27 balls; the left-hander fell to Tanveer in the 18th over for 21 off 15 balls, but Behardien batted through to the end, hitting a wonderful six over extra cover off the Pakistani in the final over.
David Wiese, another who had international rivals for his place, showed his big-hitting ability with 14 not out off seven balls, but it was the composure and brilliance of Behardien that carried the Titans to their highest total this season and the best against the Lions.
Phangiso was the obvious bowling hero for the Lions, with Tanveer, Morris and Pretorius the other wicket-takers, but all at a cost of more than nine runs an over.