Hashim Amla pulls through the leg side © Getty Images
All three matches were drawn in the opening round, with the Titans-Dolphins fixture coming closest to a result.
Dolphins were 162 for 6 in their chase of 430, but Titans’ attack, led by Morne Morkel, were held off for nearly 49 overs thanks to a seventh-wicket stand of 119. Titans set the game up strongly with 451 for 7 declared in their first innings. They took a 134-run lead after bowling Dolphins out for 317 and then declared again in their second innings, on 295 for 4. But they ran out of time to bowl Dolphins out for a second time.
Warriors also ran out of time against Lions after piling on 503 for 8 in their first innings. They might have thought a result was possible when they bowled Lions out for 348. They added 199 to their 155-run lead to set Lions a target of 355 and Lions were 190 for 3 at the end of play.
A record was broken in Bloemfontein, where Knights put on their highest franchise score of 623 for 4 declared, with four centurions in their ranks, after dismissing Cobras for 159. The pitch flattened out and Cobras saved the game, scoring 567 for 6 in the second dig.
On the national radar
At the request of new national coach Ottis Gibson, all the available international players were required to play this round and he would have been pleased with what he saw.
Aiden Markram secured his Test debut with 119 and 87 for Titans and his senior opening partner Dean Elgar also found form with 139 in the second innings. Test captain Faf du Plessis contributed 96 to Titans’ first innings, while Quinton de Kock scored 54 but was out for a second-ball duck in the second innings. Morne Morkel took five wickets in the match, to bring Titans close to a win.
For Dolphins, Andile Phehlukwayo, who is also part of the Test squad went wicketless while Keshav Maharaj, the only specialist spinner, took one wicket. Both of them conceded heavily, Phehlukwayo at 5.41 overall and Maharaj at 4.45. Middle-order batsman Khaya Zondo, who captained the South Africa ‘A’ limited-overs side, was Dolphins only centurion.
Dean Elgar pulls on the way to his battling hundred © Getty Images
Warriors have no current internationals in their XI but the prowess of Jon-Jon Smuts, who has played T20Is will be of interest. He scored 117 off 149 balls in the first innings and 58 off 36 balls in the second.
The most notable performer at the Wanderers was Kagiso Rabada, who bowled 38 overs without reward. Rabada was miserly though, and only went at 2.68 runs per over throughout the match.
Also of interest was discarded Test opener Stephen Cook, who made scores of 20 and 34 and young allrounder Willem Mulder, who is cover for Wayne Parnell in the Test squad. Mulder took 4 for 70 in the Warriors’ first innings and scored 79 in Lions’ first innings.
Duanne Olivier is all but certain to play the first Test against Bangladesh in Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn’s absence and warmed up with 3 for 58 in for Knights in Cobras’ first innings. Knights captain Theunis de Bruyn, who may be eyeing a more regular place in the Test XI now that JP Duminy has retired, was the top-scorer of the round with 195.
There were worries around Cobras’ international quality batting line-up first-up but they came back strongly. Hashim Amla scored 189 in the second innings. Temba Bavuma had no such luck with 25 and a first-ball duck.
There were 12 centuries all told in the opening round, seven in the match between Knights and Cobras. Keegan Petersen, Rudi Second and Werner Coetsee added to de Bruyn’s knock but it was Justin Ontong and Aviwe Mgijima whose hundreds will make the headlines. Ontong scored his 26th first-class century to held Amla save the game and Mgijima notched up his first as Cobras ensured safety. The other non-international radar hundred came from Edward Moore, who was the Warriors first centurion before Smuts joined him.
Shadley van Schalkwyk from Knights was one of two bowlers to take a five-for in this round. His 5 for 30 against Cobras came when there was still life in the Bloemfontein surface. Titans’ Malusi Siboto took 5 for 51 in Dolphins first innings, his fifth five-for. Dolphins’ Robbie Frylinck claimed 4 for 71 in Titans’ first innings while Warriors’ Sisanda Magala took 4 for 80 in Lions’ first innings.
Spotted on the ground
Gibson was present at both SuperSport Park and the Wanderers to watch the likes of Markram and Rabada. He was accompanied by convener of selectors Linda Zondi.
The usually empty SuperSport Park grass embankment was graced with the presence of de Kock’s two Jack Russells, Gia and Mia.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo