With the formidable four-man Lions pace attack all hitting their straps, the Titans struggled to 158 for five at stumps, replying to the home side’s first innings of 401.
That the Lions managed to reach that total after being 271 for five overnight was largely due to Kagiso Rabada hitting an impressive 48 not out at number 10, while the rest of the lower-order all dug in to reach double figures.
The 19-year-old Rabada, batting for just the fourth time in the four-day competition (his previous innings have been 0, 3* & 0), showed tremendous composure and plenty of potential with the bat as he hit six fours and two sixes, generally using the straightest of bats.
The Titans had started the second morning well with the third over of the day bringing the wicket of Thami Tsolekile for 31, failing to pull off the hook shot against the pace of Marchant de Lange.
Devon Conway and Chris Morris (16) added 35 for the seventh wicket before the latter edged the left-arm seam of Rowan Richards into the slips, and leg-spinner Shaun von Berg claimed the wicket of Conway (24) in the next over.
The Lions were then seemingly on track to waste the strong start to the innings given to them by Temba Bavuma (84) as they slipped to 321 for eight. But Rabada and Hardus Viljoen (23) added 53 for the ninth wicket and Lonwabo Tsotsobe (10) helped add another 17 for the last wicket, but couldn’t hold out long enough for Rabada to achieve what would have been a richly-deserved maiden half-century.
The ease with which the Lions lower-order batted in the morning was in stark contrast to how the Titans fared as they came out to bat 40 minutes after lunch, but then again the home side’s pace attack is streets ahead of that of the visitors.
De Lange finished with three wickets for the Titans, but was expensive, conceding 114 runs in his 28 overs, while Richards took two for 64 in 20.1 overs and Ethy Mbhalati was wicketless for 64 runs in 24 overs.
Von Berg picked up three wickets and went for 87 runs in his 37 overs, the most admirable effort amongst the Titans bowlers.
The Titans top-order soon found themselves in deep trouble on 47 for four. Instead of being workers of the new ball, they tried too many aggressive strokes and paid the price.
Credit must go to the Lions attack because they put the Titans under pressure with some fine pace bowling, even if some of the wicket-taking deliveries themselves were no great shakes.
Dean Elgar clipped Viljoen for four through midwicket but then shouldered arms to the next delivery, which was straight and swung back, and the left-hander was on his way practically before the umpire put his finger up.
Four balls later, Heino Kuhn flapped loosely at a short delivery down the leg-side from Tsotsobe and was caught behind for a duck, but young Theunis de Bruyn seemed to be stepping up to the plate as he stroked six boundaries in cruising to 30.
Rabada, who gradually upped his pace to impressive levels as the innings progressed, had Qaasim Adams (8) splendidly caught down the leg-side by diving wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, and when De Bruyn was trapped lbw by Morris, the Titans were up against it on 47 for four.
Some of Roelof van der Merwe’s strokeplay may not be suitable for posters of batsmen on schoolchildrens’ walls, but the nuggety all-rounder got stuck in as usual and scored a run-a-ball 23 to at least slightly extricate the Titans from the mire they found themselves in.
Disaster struck, however, when the first ball of Tsotsobe’s second spell, a rank loosener shortly after tea, was sliding down leg but took a deflection into wicketkeeper De Kock’s gloves. Umpire Adrian Holdstock was in no doubt that it had come off Van der Merwe’s bat, but there was a strong suggestion in the batsman’s reaction that the ball had only hit pad.
Coming in at 102 for five, it was critical that Mangaliso Mosehle hung around and he played himself in carefully before becoming more expansive in the last hour.
The wicketkeeper/batsman ended the day on 35 not out and helped Farhaan Behardien add 56 for the sixth wicket in 21.2 overs.
Behardien showed the sort of determination and sound judgement expected of a senior batsman, being technically sound and generally not being drawn into loose strokes as he finished the day on 45 not out in 165 minutes. He is a natural strokeplayer, though, and he did manage to collect eight fours from the 103 deliveries he faced.
Behardien and Mosehle will be central to the Titans’ hopes of staying in the game, the deficit a sizeable 243 at the halfway stage of the opening four-day match of the season.