Houbert was brought into the attack as early as the third over and removed opener Gerry Pike, to a wonderful, leaping one-handed catch by Ethy Mbhalati at deep mid-on, to immediately undermine the Phantoms’ pursuit of 157 for victory.
The CBC Old Boys 31-year-old then dismissed Jason Brooker (4) and Danie Rossouw (13) in the 11th over to leave the Phantoms on 66 for five and well on their way to defeat.
They eventually staggered to 103 all out in 17.2 overs, thanks chiefly to Shaun von Berg scoring 24 not out. Their key batsmen contrived to get themselves out – opener Blake Schraader being run out attempting a crazy second run for 23, Qaasim Adams (10) being bowled by Cobus Pienaar as he swung across the line, and Roelof van der Merwe (8) hoicking Sammy Mofokeng to deep cover.
Medium-pacer Mofokeng was the other bowler to excel for the Gladiators, taking two for 16 in his four overs.
Van der Merwe had earlier produced a superb display of spin bowling at the death to restrict the Gladiators to 156 for five after they had reached 100 for two with seven overs left. The left-arm spinner claimed two for 25 in four overs, while left-arm paceman Rowan Richards grabbed a wicket and was economical, and off-spinner Eden Links also produced a tidy spell of four overs for 27 runs.
A top-class innings of 53 off 51 balls by Ryk Eksteen laid a solid platform for the Gladiators, sharing a second-wicket stand of 54 off 51 deliveries with Lerato Kgoatle (31) and putting on 61 off 43 balls for the third wicket with Farhaan Behardien, who survived a chance on 1 and went on to score 23 off 18.
The second match of the day was also a one-sided affair, with the Tornados beating the Pirates by 51 runs.
Aiden Markram provided the initial momentum up front for the Tornados with his 32 off 19 balls and his fellow Tuks star, Theunis de Bruyn, kept the scoreboard moving with 29 off 20 deliveries.
Titans stars Henry Davids (26) and Mangaliso Mosehle (21) also batted well to take the Tornados to 100 for two after 12 overs, before the innings soured as the Pirates used five spinners to good effect.
Lanky off-spinner Ruben Claassen was the best of the Pirates bowlers as he dismissed Markram, caught behind by Heinrich Klaasen, with his first delivery and conceded just 13 runs in three overs.
David Wiese was also impressive with one for 22 in four overs, but the star of the innings was Graeme van Buuren, who scored 35 not out off 20 balls. He lifted the Tornados from 138 for five at the start of the final over to 162 for five, belting three sixes off wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi.
Fast bowler Gerhard Linde was too much of a handful for the Pirates top-order, removing Jeandre Jumat and Ruan Olivier cheaply, while Corbin Bosch was also impressive with the new ball.
The required run-rate was already over nine when the Pirates’ two best batsman, Klaasen and Wiese, were brought together, and the Tornados bowlers executed their plans well to ensure they could not snatch control away.
Klaasen was dismissed by off-spinner Markram and Wiese was snapped up by Davids, who took two for 10 in three overs to finish the job started by Linde and Bosch.
The Pirates innings eventually closed on 111 for eight.
The Tornados, who boast the strongest batting line-up on paper, now take on the Phantoms, the defending champions who have to win tomorrow to stay in the race.
Scores in brief
Gladiators 156-5 (Lerato Kgoatle 31, Ryk Eksteen 53, Farhaan Behardien 23; Roelof van der Merwe 2-25). Phantoms 103 (Blake Schraader 23, Shaun von Berg 24*; Sammy Mofokeng 2-16, Ryan Houbert 3-22). Gladiators won by 53 runs.
Tornados 162-5 (Henry Davids 26, Aiden Markram 32, Theunis de Bruyn 29, Mangaliso Mosehle 21, Graeme van Buuren 35*). Pirates 111-8 (Shershan Naidoo 33, David Wiese 24; Gerhard Linde 2-13, Henry Davids 2-10). Tornados won by 51 runs.