Nelson Mandela Bay Giants 131 for 1 (Smuts 62*, Marais 42) beat Durban Heat 127 for 6 (Morkel 28, Dala 2-16) by nine wickets
After a couple of modestly-attended matches, the Mzansi Super League needed a showpiece exhibition of what the league might offer, and under Friday night’s lights, a vocal St George’s Park crowd cheered Nelson Mandela Bay Giants to a dominant nine-wicket win over Durban Heat. With the famous brass band in full flow, Jon-Jon Smuts and Marco Marais – local lads both – backed up a clinical performance with the ball by stitching together a 94-run opening stand that had the fans singing in the stands and helped to secure victory with two-and-a-half overs to spare.
A hometown favourite who grew up in the Eastern Cape and plays franchise cricket for Warriors, Smuts is an uncomplicated player, marrying the benefits of a sharp eye and quick hands with a well-built frame. He doesn’t move his feet much, but hits the ball frighteningly hard. On Friday, he cracked six fours and two sixes in his 62 not out, as Giants chased down Durban Heat’s under par 127 for 6 with ease.
St George’s Park is usually one of the livelier venues around South Africa, with several universities in the area adding youthful exuberance to the strong local support. The brass band, which occupied one of the stands and was in full song virtually throughout the evening, kept up a carnival mood.
Marais responded to Smuts’ lead and the electric atmosphere with an adventurous innings of his own. Marais was picked up by Giants on the strength of his provincial performances – his Border coach Francois Plaatjies called him ‘a strong farm boy who hits the ball a long way’, after his performances in this year’s Africa T20, and hitting the fastest triple hundred in first-class cricket history last season, reaching the triple from just 191 deliveries for Border against Eastern Province in East London.
He lived up to the reputation in his cameo. Favouring the off side, Marais struck three fours and a six in the Powerplay and brought up the fifty stand with a rasping aerial drive off Kyle Abbott in the eighth over. When Smuts hit Tladi Bokako right into the stand where the band were playing and followed that up with another monstrous mow over wide long-on, Giants were cruising.
With the temptation of the bonus points that might come from chasing down their target inside 16 overs, Marais fell advancing at Vernon Philander to be bowled for 42 in the pursuit of quick runs, but Smuts remained and moved to a 43-ball fifty in the 15th over. Ben Duckett chipped in with an inventive 21 not out, and Smuts fittingly hit the winning runs with a flick through square leg for his sixth four.
While the home batsmen made the most of a pitch that quickened up later in the evening, their bowling attack showed earlier that there was also profit to be had from discipline with the ball on this track. Durban lost three of their top four inside the first two overs as Junior Dala and Chris Morris targeted the stumps with sustained pace after Smuts had opted to put Durban in upon winning the toss. Dala struck with his second ball, and Morris found himself on a hat-trick when he removed Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller with consecutive deliveries.
Imran Tahir arrived to get rid of Hashim Amla in his first over, and Durban Heat were looking increasingly rudderless at 37 for 4. Khaya Zondo managed to keep the score ticking over despite the regular fall of wickets, but just when he seemed to have settled he was bowled by Sisanda Magala.
Durban rallied through captain Albie Morkel and Vernon Philander, but immediately after hitting Tahir out of the stadium, Philander slammed a shot back down the track and Morkel was struck painfully on his right wrist at the non-striker’s end. He was unable to continue his innings, and though Philander and Keshav Maharaj struck a few more blows, Durban could not lift themselves to a challenging total without Morkel’s hitting power.
Dala returned to remove Philander with his final delivery, and as Morkel left the ground to go to hospital for scans on his wrist, Smuts and Marais walked to the middle and set about his bowlers to secure Giants’ second win of the tournament.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.