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CENTURION: Indecisive like a pretty girl with several suitors, the second CLT20 semifinal swung this way and that, before realising that the guile and Aussie grit of Sydney Sixers were perhaps more deserving of its faithfulness on Friday night.
It took a stolen bye to end a fickle game that had lurched around endlessly. Sixers, after teetering between sureshot success and certain failure reached a situation where they needed 19 off two overs for a place in the final, three wickets in hand - this after David Wiese's blitzkrieg had engineered Titans' first innings 163-5. Taking strike in the 19th over, Pat Cummins, who had been thrashed to bits earlier in the evening, struck a savage six off Alfonso Thomas, as 11 runs materialised - as also a dropped catch of Cummins (Behardien the culpable party) on the last ball that resulted in a crucial couple for the batting side.
Eight were needed in the last over - Cummins and fellow paceman Mitchell Starc in the middle - to be bowled by medium pacer Cornelius de Villiers. The bowler conceded a brace first ball, picked up Ben Rohrer on the second, sprayed a wide on the third, followed by another brace and two leg byes. With the scores tied, a ball remaining and the field in, de Villiers opted for the slow bouncer, which Cummins missed and which went straight to the 'keeper, even as the batsman hurtled out of his crease for the winning run.
Sixers two-wicket win gives them the right to meet Highveld Lions on Sunday for the $2.5 million dollar first prize. All-rounder Steve O'Keefe was declared Man of the Match for his brisk 32 and the four overs that he bowled for just 19 during Titans' first innings.
Chasing Titans' 163-5 - realised principally thorough Wiese's pitiless 28-ball 61 - Sixers started in a hurry and were cruising on 85-1 in the ninth over when a cascade of wickets arrested their progress. Michael Lumb (33, 19b) and Steve O'Keefe (32, 21b) raced to a 54-run opening partnership in under 5 overs, before Lumb lobbed a slower Alfonso Thomas delivery into the hands of cover.
O'Keefe spanked six boundaries and his dismissal in the 9th over - bowled by offie Eden Links, who had opened the bowling for Titans - triggered a slide of sorts. The Sixers lost six wickets for 47 runs in just under 9 overs, as Titans played on their home advantage. Sixers' skipper Brad Haddin holed out to Roelof van der Merwe and in the same over, the 10th of the innings, when the well-set Nic Maddinson was run out responding to a foolish call by new man Steve Smith. Soon, Smith was dealt a jolt of karmic justice when he was duly run out by Moises Henriques.
Henriques was dropped on 4 by de Villers, but he thrashed out two sixes in a quickfire 27 to keep Sixers in the hunt. Henriques perished in the 16th over and in the next, Nathan McCullum was trapped in front by Alfonso for a golden duck. Sixers needed 33 in 23 balls at that stage, and some desperate scrambling got them over the line in the nick of time.
Earlier, Wiese pulled Titans out of a slushy morass with some fearless hitting against Sixers' battery of genuine quicks. The South African outfit was struggling on 82 for five in the 14th over after electing to bat, before Wiese's four sixes and six fours lifted them to to 163.
Wiese and opener Henry Davids, who carried his bat with an unbeaten 59, added 81 in 39 balls, as big hits rained on Centurion, the last four overs yielding a massive 72.
The game began with the ominous threat of rain in the air, and it was a surprise when Titans captain Martin van Jaarsveld elected to bat. Soon enough, his side was in deep distress, three down within the Powerplay and scoring at barely above a run-a ball. On a pitch that was relatively slower than what one would expect of Centurion, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc varied their pace to perfection as the batsmen strugled to connect.
Veteran Jacques Rudolph slashed Josh Hazlewood hard to Michael Lumb at deep third man, while Heino Kuhn was bowled off Starc going for the pull. Captain van Jaarsveld lobbed up a catch to cover to hand Starc his second wicket, and at 36 for three, the Titans' decision to bat first appeared to have backfired. Davids was the lone man holding his ground and his 43-run fourth-wicket partnerhip with all-rounder Farhaan Behardien appeared to have salvaged the situation for Titans. But Behardien was held sharply by Nathan McCullum at short cover, which brought Wiese out in the middle.
Roloef van der Merwe departed soon and Wiese, who spent 10 sedate balls sizing up the situation, began his onslaught against Cummins in the 17th over, gaining 15 including a sweet six that soared over midwicket. The next over, bowled by Moises Henriques, conceded 23 chiefly on the back of consecutive hits over the fence and yet another thrashing awaited Cummins when he ran in to bowl the 19th - this Davids hefting a maximum over cow corner and reaching his fifty.
Soon after, Wiese reached his half-century - in 25 balls, the fastest of the tournament. Sixers' bowlers capitulated under pressure to yield a series of wides as Titans posted 163-5, a total that looked had far out of their reach at the halfway stage of the innings. Cummins gave away 51 in 4 overs, while Henriques and Starc conceded 36 and 33 respectively, effectively ruining whatever containtment they had imposed upon the Titans in the first few overs.