A superb hat-trick by Ethy Mbhalati left the Gestetner Diamond Eagles in tatters and took the Nashua Titans to an emphatic 67-run win in their crunch Standard Bank Pro20 match in Kimberley on Sunday.
Mbhalati took four for 12 in his four overs as the Eagles crashed to 67 all out, the Titans having initially looked a bit short of runs after finishing on 132 for eight. The Eagles innings was interrupted by rain when they were 54 for eight and their target was adjusted to 135 in 16 overs by the Duckworth/Lewis method.
The tall seamer was unerringly accurate at sharp pace and the Eagles batsmen, unable to get him way, collapsed in a heap.
Mbhalati's new-ball partner, Andre Nel, gave wholehearted support and was full value for the two key wickets he took.
Nel began the demolition job when he caught-and-bowled Loots Bosman, the most prolific run-scorer in Pro20, off the leading edge for just six.
Nel also uprooted Morne van Wyk's stumps, before Mbhalati went to work at the other end, thoroughly undermining the Eagles innings as he winkled out Dean Elgar (1) with the third ball of his third over and Jacques Rudolph (7) with the last delivery.
Mbhalati then had Boeta Dippenaar (6) caught in the covers with the first ball of his next over, before completing the first hat-trick in Standard Bank Pro20 cricket by firing a beauty into Ryan Bailey's stumps.
The Eagles had nothing to crow about batting-wise, with Van Wyk's 11 being their top score.
Titans captain Pierre Joubert claimed three wickets, a top-class delivery having Ryan McLaren caught behind for eight and then bowling Thandi Tshabalala for the same score just as the rain began falling heavily. Four balls after the resumption, Joubert had Dillon du Preez caught for a single.
The spinners, who have been such a key part of the northern Gautengers' limited-overs success this season, were hardly required as the Titans pace attack showed that it is also a lethal force.
Gulam Bodi was the one batsman to score well as the Titans battled to 132 for eight against a tight, restrictive Diamond Eagles attack.
Bodi bashed a ferocious 62 off 53 balls and the only other time the fur was really flying for the Titans was when Albie Morkel came in for the last five overs and scored 18 off 12 balls.
Eagles' left-armer Jandre' Coetzee bowled Heino Kuhn for nine at the end of the fourth over and the fearless Roelof van der Merwe died by the sword on this occasion when McLaren bowled him for four after just five balls at the crease.
Faf du Plessis was just beginning to get into gear when he was run out by McLaren for 22, going for an iffy single.
But if the Titans were hoping for a spectacular finish from Bodi and Morkel they were to be disappointed as both came to grief during an awful collapse that saw the visitors lose four wickets for three runs in seven balls.
The bustling Roger Telemachus removed Bodi and then Farhaan Behardien for a first-ball duck and the Titans innings was careering downhill like a runaway van when Du Preez dismissed David Wiese, also first ball, and Morkel in the next over.
Nel went airborne for six off his first ball but was all at sea in the final over bowled by Coetzee, eventually being caught off the last delivery after a few lusty swings-and-misses.
McLaren took one for 19 in a telling spell of seam bowling at first-change, while spinner Tshabalala bowled superbly in the middle overs, conceding just 20 runs in his four overs.
Telemachus (two for 36) cleaned up in terms of wicket-taking, while the tearway Coetzee took two for 26. Du Preez ended with two for 19 in three overs.
The Titans, the MTN Domestic Championship winners, left no doubt that they are also the team to beat in the Standard Bank Pro20.