Albie Morkel struck 134 not out off 103 balls, including eight fours and seven sixes, as he led the Unlimited Titans to an unlikely five-wicket win over the Nashua Cape Cobras in the Momentum One-Day Cup final at Newlands on Friday night.
It was one of the great innings in the history of South African domestic limited-overs finals and Morkel shared the glory with Dean Elgar. His fellow left-hander scored 100 off 119 balls, his second successive century under pressure after his hundred in the playoff against the Dolphins.
Morkel entered the ring with the Titans in dire trouble on 60 for four in the 15th over, chasing 286 for victory, and the powerful left-hander took a while to get going as the Cobras pacemen attacked him with short-pitched bowling.
But the gritty Elgar and the determined Morkel dug in and would go on to add 195 off 189 balls for the fifth wicket, a record partnership and one that dramatically changed the momentum of the final.
Rory Kleinveldt had been the star of the opening overs of the Titans innings, dismissing both openers, Henry Davids for a duck and Jacques Rudolph for 4, but Morkel greeted his return in the batting powerplay by pulling and cutting him for three sixes in two overs.
Morkel reached his maiden List A century in the 43rd over, off just 87 deliveries, and Elgar reached three figures in the 45th over, before mistiming a pull off Kleinveldt and being caught at deep backward square-leg.
Elgar’s dismissal left the Titans needing 31 runs off 28 balls and one could sense renewed hope amongst the Cobras.
But Morkel then took complete charge, rushing the Titans to victory with 17 balls to spare as he ended Kleinveldt’s over with two sixes and a four and collected two more boundaries off Beuran Hendricks in the 47th over.
It was left-arm spinner Robin Peterson’s misfortune to see his first ball of the 48th over launched for six and the winning runs by David Wiese. Peterson came into the match as a key bowler, being the leading wicket-taker in the competition, but his contribution was minimal and questions will be asked of captain Justin Ontong’s use of his experienced star, limiting him to just 3.1 overs.
His reasoning was probably that he did not want a left-arm spinner turning the ball into the pads of two left-handers while Elgar and Morkel were at the crease, but none of his other bowlers were able to make an impression on the pair until it was much too late.
Off-spinner Sybrand Engelbrecht had removed Theunis de Bruyn (30) and Qaasim Adams (3) in successive overs to set warning bells ringing amongst the Titans, but Elgar and Morkel showed enormous composure and skill to first bat the visitors out of trouble and then into a commanding position.
Elgar has batted like a man with a point to prove after not featuring in the national team’s limited-overs plans, while Morkel continues to produce extraordinary match-winning performances at the evergreen age of 33.
Centurion Richard Levi and Andrew Puttick continued their prolific opening partnership but the rest of the Cape Cobras batsmen failed to chip in as the Titans pulled together and restricted them to 285 for eight in their 50 overs.
Levi and Puttick added 180 off 198 balls after the Cobras had won the toss and elected to bat first and really seemed to have set the home side on course for a total well in excess of 300.
But wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi bowled with wonderful control and guile, removing Levi, and the Titans bowlers applied the squeeze most effectively thereafter as the Cobras scored just 115 runs in the last 20 overs for the loss of eight wickets.
The powerful run-gathering abilities of Levi gave the Cobras the perfect start and the burly 27-year-old collected a pair of boundaries in overs from JP de Villiers, Wiese and Dala up front.
Puttick was content to feed Levi the strike and the pace bowlers were severely dealt with by the T20 international as he pounced on some friendly half-volleys and long-hops from the Titans, who also helped the Cobras by conceding numerous extras.
While Levi went to 104 off 113 balls, with 11 fours and a massive six, the spinners slowing him down, it was another day in the office for Puttick, who passed 50 for the eighth time in 10 innings in this season’s Momentum One-Day Cup, and went on to score 69 off 99 deliveries, a workmanlike effort that provided the platform for his opening partner to launch.
After Shamsi turned a delivery into Levi to trap him lbw in the 32nd over with the total on 180, there was much conjecture as to which batsman the Cobras would send in next to take full advantage of the commanding position.
It was captain Justin Ontong, a fine finisher, who came in but he could only score seven off 11 balls before being run out at the bowler’s end looking for a second run to fine leg which Puttick was not interested in. It was Shamsi who did the fielding, Dala completing the run out from a throw which was relayed by wicketkeeper Mangaliso Mosehle.
Stiaan van Zyl rightfully has many fans, but power-hitting in the closing overs of a limited-overs game is not one of his strengths and, when Puttick was run out by a sharp Dala direct hit, the elegant batsman was stuck with Omphile Ramela and the run-rate plummeted.
Shamsi completed an outstanding spell of one for 32 in 10 overs – he should have had two wickets but for Mosehle missing a stumping before Ontong had scored – and the Cobras batsmen were then besieged by the off-spin of Davids and tidy spells from Dala and Morkel.
The Titans were cock-a-hoop as they worked their way through the rest of the Cobras batting line-up, Davids claiming two wickets, Dala a sharp caught-and-bowled, and there was a third run out when Rudolph removed Peterson with a direct hit from mid-on.
The Cobras were grateful that Dane Vilas finally added the finishing touches to the opening stand as the wicketkeeper/batsman married innovation with the occasional swipe to score 40 off 25 balls before falling in an excellent final over from Wiese.