Justin Ontong delivered a top-class all-round display as the Nashua Cape Cobras scored a crucial 16-run victory over the Easterns Titans in a crunch Standard Bank Pro20 match at Newlands on Sunday.
Captain Ontong scored a brilliant 59 not out off 38 balls to give the Cobras' innings a late boost to 157 for four and he then claimed two wickets in a key two-over spell as the Titans struggled to 141 for nine.
While the Titans put a brave face on their defeat, which knocks them out of semifinal contention, their anguish in private will be acute because the defending champions have missed out on a massive payday at the Champions League, having qualified for the 2008 tournament which was cancelled due to the Mumbai terror attack.
It all looked so positive for the Titans as openers Gulam Bodi and Blake Snijman scored freely as they put on 50 in 38 balls. But Ontong brought himself into the attack in the seventh over and called veteran Roger Telemachus, plucked from semi-retirement at Stellenbosch University, to bowl the eighth.
The Titans would lose wickets in each of the next three overs as Snijman was stumped off Ontong for 17, Bodi (32) edged a wretched sweep off Telemachus into his own stumps and Roelof van der Merwe was bowled sweeping at Ontong for two.
Another experienced man, left-arm spinner Claude Henderson, was then called into service and the Titans lost yet another wicket to an ill-judged sweep, the dangerous Martin van Jaarsveld (11) top-edging to short fine-leg.
Telemachus returned for a second spell in the 14th over and showed top-class finishing ability as he bowled Farhaan Behardien for 11.
The Titans were 96 for five and it called for something extraordinary from Faf du Plessis but, after scoring 25, he deposited a full toss from Rory Kleinveldt straight into the hands of Charl Langeveldt at wide mid-on.
Captain Pierre Joubert refused to sell his wicket cheaply and ended with 26 not out, but Telemachus fittingly ended the Titans' challenge when he had Basheer Walters (4) caught at wide mid-on at the start of the final over.
But it was in the top-order where the Titans lost the match, with Bodi being the chief culprit as he tried three slog-sweeps at balls from Telemachus that were outside off stump and angling away from him, before eventually falling to the same stroke.
Telemachus ended with superb figures of three for 17 in his four overs, while Ontong had two for 19 in three, Kleinveldt two for 24 and Henderson two for 31.
Ontong had earlier plundered a half-century in 34 balls as he provided a stagnating Cape Cobras innings with key momentum.
Ontong came in in the ninth over with the Cobras grinding to a halt on 54 for three and gave the innings a much-needed boost with his artful improvisations, classical driving through the off-side and brute force on the leg-side as he collected four fours and two sixes.
Opener Derek Brand enjoyed a charmed and brief stay at the crease as he scored 21 off 17 balls, but the rest of the top-order struggled to score freely, particularly against the Titans' slower bowlers.
A dry, slowish pitch called for some patience and the other opening batsman, Andrew Puttick, scored a run-a-ball 35 which helped him and Ontong put on a fifty partnership for the fourth wicket off 40 balls.
The Cobras then lifted the run-rate up into the teens in the last five overs, with Ontong seeing them home to a competitive total, breaking free from the clutches of the spinners with some quality strokeplay and innovation.
Vernon Philander showed how dangerous a hitter he is as he belted two sixes in his 21 not out off 12 balls as the Cobras posted a total that was too challenging for the Titans.