Van der Merwe turned his maiden first-class century into a double, scoring 205 not out as the Titans amassed 539 for six in their first innings. Left-arm paceman Richards then took five for 31 as the Titans dismissed the Warriors for the second time with just a dozen overs remaining in the match. His final spell was a phenomenal 5.4-3-2-5 and included a hat-trick to end the match.
It is only the fourth time that a double century and a hat-trick have been scored in the same first-class match in South Africa and the second time it has happened at Willowmoore Park. The other occasion was the famous match in 1948/49 when Denis Compton blazed a triple century for the English tourists in 181 minutes against North-Eastern Transvaal, with seamer Cliff Gladwin then taking a hat-trick.
Last season, Shaun von Berg blasted the fastest century – off 73 balls – in franchise four-day history for the Titans against the Cape Cobras in Benoni.
Van der Merwe has always been one of the hardest workers in the Titans team and the dramatic improvement in his batting – he was their leading run-scorer in last season’s Sunfoil Series and averaged 55.57 – has been the reward.
“It’s all about the way you train in the nets and it’s just mental really. My target is to face a hundred balls, it’s a simple thing, but often scoring a fifty isn’t enough to get you there,” Van der Merwe said of his improvement.
“The way the Titans’ set-up is now, Shaun von Berg is the number one spinner for four-day cricket and the only way I can be sure of playing is by being a batsman. I’ve become almost a part-time bowler if you like, but that’s how I stay in the side, through scoring runs and my bowling is an extra,” the left-arm spinner said.
The Titans batsmen have struggled for consistency in recent times and coach Rob Walter has often stressed the importance of scoring centuries. It was typical Bulldog Roelof for him to go and make that first hundred of the season a double!
“We have struggled over the past few seasons to make big scores, so it was a good start in Benoni. I was very stressed going to a hundred for the first time, I felt sure something was going to go wrong again in the 90s, but I was able to play with freedom after that,” Van der Merwe, whose previous highest score was 93 against the Highveld Lions in 2010, said.
The Titans have been waiting for Richards to find his best form after a long-term injury lay-off, and the 30-year-old hit his straps in spectacular fashion as he wrecked the Warriors’ brave effort to save the game.
“It’s my first hat-trick and it makes it really special that it won the game and gave me a five-for,” Richards said after his career-best figures in the Sunfoil Series.
“I knew it would be my last spell of the day, so I just pushed it and made sure I hit good areas. There had been a lot of effort before me by the other seamers, JP de Villiers and Ethy Mbhalati, that broke the long partnership between Colin Ingram and Ryan Bailey, and we just said that another wicket would bring more breakthroughs. We never gave up and I found my rhythm at the right time.”