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Lions succumb to Titans for just 81

The bizhub Highveld Lions succumbed for just 81 runs to end their semifinal hopes and hand the Nashua Titans victory by 31 runs in their Standard Bank Pro20 match at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday.

The Lions looked on course for victory after they limited the Titans to 112 for eight, but they then produced an even worse batting performance as their hopes of defending their title died.

The Titans now qualify for the semis in fourth place on the log, a superb all-round bowling performance ending their disastrous run of three straight defeats.

It was a case of the Lions being swept away by the Titans' brilliant combination of new-ball and spin excellence.

Leg-spinner Imran Tahir celebrated his first appearance in the Standard Bank Pro20 by mowing through the middle-order with three for 13. He was helped considerably, though, by the stellar new-ball bowling of Andre Nel and Ethy Mbhalati.

Nel motored in and removed both openers, Justin Ontong (14) and Alviro Petersen (six), while Mbhalati bounded in and dismissed both Blake Snijman (nought) and Vaughn van Jaarsveld (two) with great deliveries.

Snijman was bowled by a jaffa that nipped away to hit off stump, while Van Jaarsveld edged an away-swinger to slip and the Lions' hopes pretty much died with him.

Their required run-rate was then up to 6.6 an over which gets even harder when a spinner is bowling a baffling combination of googlies and normal leg-spinners to an inexperienced middle-order.

Jean Symes, the former SA under-19 star, lost his wicket first as Tahir had him smartly stumped down the leg-side by Heino Kuhn for six, while Heinrich le Roux scored 12 but never got into gear before he was trapped in the crease by a googly.

Dumisa Makalima and Werner Coetsee also fell cheaply in a numbing capitulation by the Lions, before Cliffie Deacon (12) and Friedel de Wet (17) enjoyed a late hit-out.

The Pakistan-born Tahir, who has signed a permanent contract with the Titans, finished off with career-best twenty20 figures of three for 13, while Roelof van der Merwe, Faf du Plessis and Albie Morkel each picked up a wicket.

The top-class bowling of Mbhalati earned him two for 16 and was the first nail in the Lions' coffin.

Nel's support was also crucial as he took two for 13.

Earlier, Garnett Kruger had taken three wickets in his first two overs as the Titans struggled to 112 for eight.

Kruger's inspired new-ball burst meant the Titans were always in trouble after being sent in to bat, their only telling innings coming from opener Gulam Bodi (28), Van der Merwe (20) and captain Pierre Joubert (22 not out).

Kruger's first wicket would come off the first ball of the match as Kuhn played across the line and was beaten by a full delivery which swung late to hit the pads, the Titans wicketkeeper hardly waiting for the slow finger of death from umpire Rudi Koertzen.

An amazing maiden over was capped by Du Plessis's wicket, caught at first slip for a duck after driving at an away-swinger.

The Titans did not know what had hit them when Kruger sent Morkel (one) on his way, caught behind, with the second ball of his second over.

Bodi batted on for nearly an hour in scoring 28, while off-spinner Coetsee came on and had Farhaan Behardien (eight) caught at long-off.

Bodi then left the wicket in anger as he sliced a big drive off an impressive Deacon (4-1-9-1) to deep cover to leave the Titans on 66 for five.

Kruger finished his spell by bowling Van der Merwe for 20 to finish with glorious figures of four for ten and there were few gaps in the Lions' bowling or fielding performance.

Nel hit a four and a six in his 12 off five balls and Joubert scored his 22 not out off 19 balls, but it was the Lions who had the final word as Coetsee claimed a second wicket in the final over.

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