Justin Ontong played an innings of tremendous composure as the Highveld Lions snatched victory at the death over the Nashua Cape Cobras in their Standard Bank Pro20 match at the Wanderers on Friday.
The Cobras looked to have squeezed the life out of the Lions innings when, chasing 182, they were 120 for six after 15 overs. But the Cobras bowlers then began bleeding runs and couldn't stop the flow as Ontong played a masterly innings of 43 off 21 balls.
The last over dawned with the Lions needing 12 runs and veteran Alan Dawson conceded a crucial boundary first ball when Eugene Moleon nudged a leg-stump delivery to fine leg. A fielding lapse by Charl Willoughby at short fine-leg cost another boundary and, even though Ontong was bowled by Dawson's penultimate delivery, a wide down leg off the last ball sealed a two-wicket victory for the Lions.
Ontong's wonderful innings included three fours and three sixes and it was Werner Coetsee who shared the crucial partnership with him as they added 68 off 39 balls for the seventh wicket when all looked lost for the Lions.
Coetsee fell for 33 off 23 balls with two overs left when he moved out of his crease to Adam Bacher, missed and was stumped by Wesley Euley.
Before that, the Lions had scratched for runs as veteran Willoughby produced some of his quality swing bowling of yore as he picked up the first three wickets in the first six overs.
Vaughn van Jaarsveld would go to a 21-ball 31 and Tyron Henderson grabbed 22 off 19 balls, but the Lions always seemed to be chasing an ever-increasing run-rate.
But the Cobras paid a heavy price for not taking four catches that came their way and their bowlers came undone in the closing overs as Ontong and Coetsee mounted their telling stand.
Earlier, the Cape Cobras reached 181 for six in their 20 overs, via a hard-hit 85 from Bacher.
Bacher batted through to the 18th over, coming hard at the Lions bowlers from the outset even though fellow opener JP Duminy was dismissed for a three-ball duck, the elegant strokeplayer perhaps being ill-suited to the smash and grab of Pro20 cricket.
Bacher plundered 10 fours and three sixes off the 54 balls he faced, scoring mostly in the midwicket and square cover areas. He was eventually dismissed within sight of just the second Pro20 century when he drove a ball from Gerhard de Bruin into Moleon's hands at deep cover.
Henry Davids also punished the Lions new-ball bowlers in a 15-ball 34, hitting two sixes, one practically into orbit, the other low and flat into the Cobras' dugout.
Off-spinner Coetsee was the pick of the Lions attack as he bowled his four overs for just 21 runs, while De Bruin, who opened the bowling, took three wickets and kept the runs down to just 25.
Vernon Philander batted well at the death to finish on 21 not out and guide the Cobras to their highest total in Pro20 cricket.