The bizhub Highveld Lions ended a six-year wait for silverware when they were crowned RAM SLAM T20 Challenge champions with a convincing 30-run victory over the Nashua Titans in a tense final at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday.
After winning the toss and batting first, Geoffrey Toyana’s men posted a a competitive, albeit below-par, total of 155 for five, built around the fluency of Quinton de Kock (44 off 31 balls) and intelligence of Neil McKenzie (39 off 32 balls) <p> All their bowlers then came to the fore, each grabbing two wickets apiece to bundle out the defending champions for 125 in 18.1 overs.
The spin duo of Aaron Phangiso (2-25) and Imran Tahir (2-26) were particularly impressive, while Hardus Viljoen (2-25), Sohail Tanvir (2-21) and Chris Morris (2-18) also shone.
Herschelle Gibbs top-scored with 22 off 22 balls, but the visitors lost wickets at regular intervals and succumbed to their first ever defeat in a domestic T20 final having won it on each of the previous three times they reached there.
For the hosts, it was only their second title in franchise era cricket having won the same competition in 2006/07 and also secured them a coveted double this season – they shared the Momentum One Day Cup crown with the Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras in December.
At the start, De Kock and Rassie van der Dussen (12) put on 58 for the first wicket, including 45 for none in the powerplay and the former surpassing 500 runs in the season during that time.
But Roelof van der Merwe took a superb return catch in the seventh to dismiss Van der Dussen with De Kock following when he slapped a Henry Davids hip-high full toss down the throat of Farhaan Behardien at deep midwicket just after the halfway stage, which the home side reached on 81 for one.
The runs had slightly dried up by then with the bizhub Highveld Lions crossing 100 in the 13th over, before Alviro Petersen (15) was bowled attempting to swing Albie Morkel heavily onto the leg side.
There was a crucial blow for Matthew Maynard’s men in the 16th over when Albie Morkel, the pick of the bowlers with one for 14 in 2.3 overs, rolled over his ankle and had to be helped from the field.
But the Nashua Titans continued to keep their hosts in check, and a tight closing, which included Marchant De Lange removing Jean Symes (10) and conceding just seven in a tight closing over restricted the target to 156.
The reply was a slightly cagey one from the Centurion outfit as Heino Kuhn (19) and Davids (14) took just two boundaries from the first three overs.
But 18 came from the fourth over, before a thick Davids edge off Viljoen was taken by Tahir on the second attempt at third man.
Phangiso trapped Kuhn leg before wicket two overs later and had AB de Villiers (four) out in the same way three deliveries later, allowing the bizhub Highveld Lions to claw their way back.
After De Kock put down Behardien (six), the fightback continued with Tahir trapping the same batsman lbw in the next over and having Van der Merwe (seven) caught by Phangiso at deep midwicket either side of Morris cleaning up key man Gibbs for 22 leaving the Nashua Titans on 87 for six.
David Wiese (21) and Albie Morkel (16) tried their best to change the destination of the match, but failed as the bizhub Highveld Lions celebrated winning a first final in their past four attempts.
bizhub Highveld Lions: Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (wk), Alviro Petersen (capt), Temba Bavuma, Neil Mckenzie, Jean Symes, Chris Morris, Sohail Tanvir, Hardus Viljoen, Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir.
Nashua Titans: Henry Davids (capt), Heino Kuhn (wk), Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers, Farhaan Behardien, Albie Morkel, David Wiese, Roelof van der Merwe, Morne Morkel, Eden Links, Marchant de Lange.