The Nashua Titans clinched a nerve-wracking six-run victory over the Western Cape Cobras in their Standard Bank Pro20 semifinal at Sahara Park Newlands in Cape Town on Sunday.
The Titans scored 158 for seven and their defence of that total was looking decidedly shaky when the Cobras raced to 63 for one after eight overs.
But the Cobras innings was laid low by two run outs, the Titans showing the alert fielding that helped them to the MTN Domestic Championship title earlier in the year.
Herschelle Gibbs's dismissal was on the stupid side as Titans captain Pierre Joubert regathered the ball after dropping a fierce drive from JP Duminy and whistled in a throw to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers to catch Gibbs well short of his ground.
But the other run out - and probably the turning point of the match - was thanks to a piece of brilliance from Roelof van der Merwe, the rookie who has had a phenomenal limited-overs series and was once again a key figure on Sunday.
Graeme Smith was giving the Titans bowlers a torrid time as he muscled his way to 34 off 26 balls. The burly left-hander then pushed Morne Morkel into the covers and set off for a single, but Van der Merwe moved quickly and threw down the stumps at the non-striker's end on the turn.
Duminy powered his way to a half-century, but with few of the sweetly-struck boundaries that normally characterise his play. Then again the left-hander has had little time in the middle recently.
Inspired bowling by the Morkel brothers, Morne and Albie, in the middle overs left the Cobras needing 52 runs in the last four overs to win and left-arm spinner Van der Merwe ensured the Titans booked their place in another final as he kept the Cobras to just nine runs in the final over.
The Cape Cobras had earlier held their nerve well to restrict the Easterns Titans to 158 for seven.
The Titans were in prime position for a far higher total as openers Faf du Plessi and Gulam Bodi (29) took them to 73 without loss after eight overs.
Du Plessis was in particularly inspired form as he raced to 44 off 34 balls, hitting three balls into the crowd, before he was run out in controversial circumstances.
Racing back for a third run as Duminy fielded superbly on the boundary, Du Plessis had to pull out a dive as he slid his bat into the crease. Wicketkeeper Ryan Canning had to stretch to break the stumps but TV umpire Karl Hurter inexplicably ruled the batsman was out. In his younger days, his eyesight was surely better.
Rory Kleinveldt took the new ball with Charl Langeveldt, but was having a hellish time shaking off the effects of a hernia injury. The Titans batsmen failed to really take advantage of that, however, or the several full tosses that were delivered by a Cobras attack that was not at its best.
Duminy also played a key role in the closing overs as he came on to complete Kleinveldt's quota of overs, grabbing four wickets in his three overs, including two in the third, which was an "extra" over for the part-time off-spinner.
Farhaan Behardien did provide a telling late boost, however, with his 32 not out off just 18 balls, after Duminy had removed the frustrated Albie Morkel (12) and De Villiers (28), both of whom struggled to score at much more than a run-a-ball.
Langeveldt laid a solid foundation with the ball, his four overs costing 32 runs, even though he did not take a wicket for the first time in this season's Pro20, but apart from Duminy's surprise success, it was seamer Tyron Henderson (4-0-28-0) and slow left-armer Con de Lange (4-0-28-1) who slowed the Titans' momentum in the middle overs.