Smuts stars as Warriors pull off slender win over Knights
Captain Jon-Jon Smuts made another fine hundred but the Warriors were made to sweat while pulling off a tense six-run victory over the Knights in their Momentum One-Day Cup cricket fixture at St George’s Park, on Friday.
The win was not without its nervous moments as the Knights needed only 11 runs off Andrew Birch’s final in chasing an improbable 285 for victory.
But Birch held his nerve to help the Warriors maintain their winning run in Port Elizabeth this season while also strengthening their second position on the log.
The Warriors have now played eight matches in all formats at the country’s oldest test venue and have won seven of them with the remaining match being abandoned due to rain.
Smuts was simply unstoppable in scoring 132 in the Warriors’ innings of 284 for four. Colin Ackermann added a timely 86 and then the bowlers took over to eventually limit the fighting Knights to 278 for eight in reply.
Knights skipper Pite von Biljon kept his side in the game with a superb knock of 84 and Aubrey Swanepoel scored an unbeaten 76 but it was just a bridge too far for the visitors.
It was Smuts’ second consecutive ton after his heroic 173 not out against the Cape Cobras in Cape Town on Sunday. It was also his sixth career century in the competition and his runs came off a mere 144 balls, featuring eight fours and five sixes.
Andrew Birch, back from injury, set the tone with the ball for the Eastern Cape franchise claiming the wicket of Rudi Second with his fourth delivery of the evening.
Jerry Nqolo then produced a fantastic piece of fielding to run out Keegan Petersen with a direct hit and when Sisanda Magala dismissed Leus du Plooy the visitors were in deep trouble at 22 for three in the fifth over.
Facing his first ball, David Miller was hit on the helmet by Magala. The Proteas star was visibly shaken by the incident and progressed to 18 before Birch bowled him with a beautiful delivery.
Van Biljon and Luthando Mnyanda (43) fought manfully in a quick 80-run partnership for the fifth wicket. The introduction of spin put the break on matters for a while with offspinner Ackermann impressive in taking two for 37 in his 10 overs.
Von Biljon also added another 80 runs with Swanepoel for the sixth wicket.
The Warirors won the toss and Smuts and fellow opener Gihahn Cloete were watchful at first on a surface that required just that. They took the total to 46 before Cloete, who made 22, was bowled playing across the line to a delivery from Mbulelo Budaza off the last ball of the 11th over.
It was not to be Colin Ingram’s day as he came in and struck two boundaries before holing out tamely at fine-leg off the bowling of Sammy Mofokeng.
Ackermann, who had endured an average campaign before Friday by his high standards, then joined his captain and came to the party in a big way.
He looked to score quickly from ball one while Smuts adopted a more circumspect approach. The two complemented each other well and they used all of their experience to put together a 151-run stand for the third wicket before Ackermann fell for 86 bowled by Budaza. The classy righthander deserved a maiden hundred but fell on his sword while chasing quick runs in the death overs. He faced only 96 balls and struck five fours and three sixes.
Smuts then kicked into top gear and punished the visiting bowlers. He was particularly severe on Budaza slamming him for massive sixes which landed in Park Drive. Budaza eventually got Smuts caught in the deep though to finish with an expensive four for 69 in his 10 overs.
- TMG Digital/TMG Sport