Never mind digging themselves into a hole, the Unlimited Titans managed to bowl and misfield their way into a massive ditch as they succumbed to a two-wicket defeat with a ball to spare at the hands of the Eastern Cape Warriors in the Momentum One-Day Cup season-opener at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Friday night.
The Titans had batted well enough after losing the toss, a late surge by Grant Thomson and Qaasim Adams taking them to 327 for four in their 50 overs. But the Warriors chased down a record 354 to win the corresponding fixture last season and the Titans were once again dreadful with the ball, conceding 24 extras, including 17 wides, during the innings.
History looked likely to repeat itself during the second-wicket stand of 133 off 126 balls between Jon-Jon Smuts and Yaseen Vallie, with opener Smuts in complete control as he blazed 101 off just 74 balls with 14 fours and two sixes.
But the game of cricket showed her tendency to turn things on their head as, from 160 for one in the 24th over, the Warriors slumped to 230 for six in the 41st as the Titans mounted Operation Fightback.
Smuts had been absolutely clinical in putting away the many loose offerings of the Titans bowlers, but when Ethy Mbhalati finally managed to find a good line just outside off stump, Smuts tried to cut too close to his body and edged through to wicketkeeper Mangaliso Mosehle.
Leg-spinner Shaun von Berg removed Clyde Fortuin for eight and Junior Dala made two important incisions when he had a composed Vallie caught skying a hook for 52 and had Somila Seyibokwe caught at third man for 23.
Captain Henry Davids claimed an important wicket for the Titans when he had the dangerous Christiaan Jonker caught at deep square-leg for 15, Rowan Richards judging a steepler well, and the home side would have thought a required run-rate of 10.50 runs per over would be too much for Simon Harmer and Andrew Birch at number seven and eight in the order.
But both showed enough ability for them to be considered as all-rounders in the future as they lashed 89 off the next 50 balls, the Titans bowlers generally failing to go for the blockhole, as Harmer and Birch swung merrily at length deliveries. Several fielding errors also cost the home side crucial runs, exacerbating the two lives that Smuts had earlier been given on 25 and 55.
The Warriors needed just 14 off the last two overs for another sensational chase at SuperSport Park and victory seemed assured when Birch hit the first ball of the penultimate over, bowled by Dala, for four.
But the unconventional fast bowler provided some hope for the Titans as he trapped Harmer lbw for 42 off 35 balls, Mother Cricket playing her games again as he seemed to edge a delivery angled down the leg-side into his pads.
Only two more runs came off a superb over and left-armer Rowan Richards heightened the drama when he conceded only five runs off the first four balls of the final over, only for Basheer Walters to lash the penultimate ball through extra cover for the winning boundary.
Birch finished with 55 not out, needing only 28 balls for his remarkable innings, which included five fours and three sixes.
The Titans, having been sent in to bat, promoted Mosehle to open the innings with Davids, but the wicketkeeper was kept firmly in his shell by a superb opening spell by Walters, who had him dropped on one.
Birch removed Davids for 20 in the ninth over and Theunis de Bruyn looked in fine form as he breezed to 26 before edging Sisanda Magala into the gloves of wicketkeeper Fortuin.
Mosehle was just beginning to get into his stride when he was bowled by impressive off-spinner Harmer for 49 off 81 deliveries, but Dean Elgar showed fine intuition in terms of shot-selection and placement as he cruised to 57 off 59 balls.
Thomson, making his Momentum One-Day Cup debut at the age of 27, also showed great awareness of the match situation as he was positive from the outset, racing to 50 off 39 balls and finishing with a wonderful 98 not out off 71 balls.
Adams has become the remorseless finisher for the Titans and he did his job again, smashing 65 not out off 39 balls as he and Thomson plundered 119 runs from the last 11.4 overs.
But as well as the Titans batted, they really did not get with the programme in the field and coach Rob Walter will no doubt have cast a thoroughly disapproving eye on the dropped catches and misfields, as well as the bowlers’ tendency to bowl on both sides of the wicket and their poor lengths at the death.