Dean Elgar produced an innings of enormous class as he scored a century to lead the Unlimited Titans into the Momentum One-Day Cup final with a 58-run victory over the Sunfoil Dolphins in the playoff at Kingsmead on Tuesday night.
Elgar came to the crease in the third over with the Titans in trouble on eight for two, and he mastered a poor pitch as he batted through to the final over, scoring a priceless 100 off 130 balls, with eight fours and a six.
The left-hander spent most of the innings just keeping the Dolphins attack at bay, as their attack made use of a deteriorating pitch that not only provided sharp turn, but also grip and uneven bounce for the seamers, but he received tremendous support from David Wiese, the Titans blazing 109 runs in the last 10 overs.
Chasing 268 batting second was always going to be a tall order for the Dolphins, who paid the price for gambling on a pitch that was more suited to the final day of a Test than a limited-overs knockout game.
The Titans, combining aggressive pace bowling with cunning seam and spin, performed brilliantly in the field, bowling the Dolphins out for 209 in the 45th over.
The Titans had earlier won the toss and elected to bat first, and the nature of the pitch was shown when the Dolphins used spinner Keshav Maharaj to bowl the second over.
The left-armer removed the Titans captain, Henry Davids (2), with his fifth ball, the batsman failing to clear the infield with a lofted drive.
The other opening bowler, Robbie Frylinck, then had Theunis de Bruyn (4) caught in the slips in the next over, bringing Elgar to the crease.
The Dolphins soon suffered a couple of killer blows with all-rounder Ryan McLaren, who passed a fitness test on the morning of the game, re-injuring his hamstring and having to leave the field in his fourth over, and Elgar then being dropped on 18 as an off-balance Cameron Delport put down a relatively straightforward chance at backward point off Andile Phehlukwayo.
Despite a poor fielding effort – four catches went down in all – the Dolphins bowlers were not relaxing the pressure they exerted and Jacques Rudolph and Elgar had to work exceptionally hard to add 78 for the fourth wicket in 19.4 overs.
Batting was not a simple task with the ball seaming, turning sharply, sometimes bouncing, sometimes keeping low and often stopping in the pitch.
Rudolph scored 39 off 69 balls before Maharaj claimed a superb return catch to dismiss him, but Elgar is one of the most determined cricketers in the country and one could almost sense him vowing not to get out before the Titans had a decent total on the board.
Qaasim Adams was trapped lbw for 11 by Maharaj and Albie Morkel (24) was just getting into his stride when he was dismissed by Andile Phehlukwayo during an impressive spell by the 18-year-old.
But Elgar and Wiese then added 92 runs during a match-changing 54-ball spell which saw the Dolphins fielders wilting and the bowlers pitching too full on a wicket which rewarded balls that were banged into the surface.
The powerful Wiese was dropped before he got off the mark by Daryn Smit at slip off the aggressive Phehlukwayo, and the Dolphins paid heavily for that as the all-rounder blasted five fours and five sixes in an explosive 71 not out off just 33 balls.
The late assault rather ruined the figures of Phehlukwayo (10-0-64-1), Maharaj (10-0-50-3) and Frylinck (10-1-45-2), but they were the best of the Dolphins bowlers.
Chasing such a large score batting second was always going to be a daunting task for the Dolphins, but truth be told, they made life harder for themselves through poor shot-selection.
Playing cross-batted shots on a pitch with inconsistent bounce is always risky, and Morne van Wyk (12), Cameron Delport (0), Khaya Zondo (72) and Phehlukwayo (2) were all caught pulling or cutting.
Zondo showed what an exciting talent he is with his wonderful innings of 72 off 87 balls and while he was at the crease, there was still danger for the Titans.
But JP de Villiers is bowling with increasing confidence and good pace these days and he bounced out both Zondo and Phehlukwayo in the batting powerplay and there was little hope for the Dolphins after that.
While De Villiers finished with three for 34 in nine overs, there was an equally impressive return of three for 35 in eight from Junior Dala and Morkel was also very handy, taking three for 33 with his seamers and cutters.
The spin bowling for the Titans was left in the hands of Tabraiz Shamsi and Elgar and they both went for a run-a-ball.
Every chance is precious in a knockout game and Davids took an exceptional one-handed reflex catch at slip, with wicketkeeper Mangaliso Mosehle diving in front of him, to remove the in-form Vaughn van Jaarsveld for 15 off the bowling of Dala.