Abbott produced a classy display of match-winning fast bowling as he led the Dolphins to a thrilling 15-run victory over the Cobras at Newlands.
The Cobras were chasing a tricky target of 183 to stretch their lead at the top of the log, but Abbott’s magnificent eight for 45 in 18 overs saw them bowled out for 167, keeping the Warriors and Highveld Lions firmly in contention for four-day honours.
Abbott had Andrew Puttick caught behind for four in his opening five-over spell and he returned six overs later to have Justin Ontong caught off a mistimed pull for 25.
He then struck twice in his eighth over to dramatically undermine the Cobras’ run-chase and reduce them to 82 for five.
Stiaan van Zyl cruised to 40 off 37 balls, but he then also mistimed a pull and looped a catch to mid-on.
Abbott then went full and trapped Dane Vilas lbw for a two-ball duck.
Justin Kemp revived the Cobras’ hopes with 29 off 31 balls, but he was not able to finish the job as he shouldered arms to Abbott after lunch and was bowled as the competition’s leading wicket-taker jagged a delivery back into the right-hander.
The Cobras were not giving up without a fight, however, and Johann Louw
(16) and Dane Piedt (20) chipped away at the target.
But Calvin Savage removed Louw before Abbott returned after a short rest and was too good for Piedt, trapping him lbw and then having Beuran Hendricks (4) caught behind, Daryn Smit taking a sharp catch.
Abbott finished with superb match figures of 12 for 96 and, as far as the Cobras are concerned, their once considerable lead atop the standings has now been whittled down to just 0.18 points over the Warriors.
Third place is filled by the Lions, who are currently 14 points behind and are being frustrated by the rain in Johannesburg as their bowlers look to enforce the follow-on against the Titans.
An amazing bowling performance by Birch led the Warriors to a crushing 10-wicket victory over the Knights.
The Knights batsmen could not fathom the late swing Birch obtained in cloudy conditions, crashing to 106 all out in their second innings, leaving the Warriors with a target of just 94 to win.
Birch finished with career-best figures of eight for 30 as he claimed four of the five wickets to fall on Saturday morning after the Knights had resumed on 76 for five.
He struck for the first time in his second over of the day, having Patrick Botha (18) caught behind by Adrian McLaren to break a stubborn sixth-wicket stand of 33 with Dean Elgar.
Elgar top-scored for the Knights with 34 before he was also caught behind off Birch four overs later.
Birch then wrapped up the Knights tail for the addition of just 20 more runs as the home side completed a dismal second-innings effort that lasted just 32.1 overs.
Quickfire innings of 48 not out by Michael Price and 44 not out by Davey Jacobs saw the Warriors go to victory in just 13.3 overs.
In Johannesburg, the aggressive Lions pace attack reduced the Titans to
115 for eight, still 188 runs behind, in the 41.2 overs of play that were possible before rain washed out play.
With the Lions attack swinging the ball and getting good bounce from the Wanderers pitch, there was little resistance from the Titans batsmen, with 20s from openers Jacques Rudolph and Pieter Malan, and Heino Kuhn the leading contributions.
That trio and David Wiese (14) were all caught behind the wicket, the Lions catching everything that came their way.
Chris Morris bowled with unrelenting pace and accuracy, but it was swing bowlers Cliffe Deacon and Zander de Bruyn who emerged as the biggest threats.
Deacon ended the day as the leading wicket-taker with three for 25 in
11 overs, as well as a great catch at second slip to dismiss Malan, while De Bruyn had two for 30.
Another embarrassing batting effort by the Titans has left them needing
39 runs to avoid the follow-on as play enters its final day.
The heavy rain around Gauteng limited play on the second day to just two deliveries and the umpires stopped play on the third day at 4pm.