Dwaine Pretorius showed that his name should be in the hat for future international all-rounders with a brilliant century that put the bizhub Highveld Lions in a commanding position after the opening day of their vital Sunfoil Series match against the Unlimited Titans at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Thursday.
Pretorius, who has been one of the stars of the Lions attack with 28 wickets at an average of just 21, scored 118 off 171 balls, his second century of the season, as the visitors reached stumps on 411 for seven, a far cry from the sticky position they were in when the all-rounder came to the crease on 156 for five midway through the second session.
The 27-year-old is well-known for his hitting ability in the limited-overs formats, but he showed excellent shot selection on Thursday, initially playing second fiddle to wicketkeeper/batsman Nicky van den Bergh, who changed the momentum of the day for the Lions with his fluent 69 off 88 deliveries.
Van den Bergh and Pretorius combined for a sixth-wicket stand of 108, but the real pain for the Titans came after Van den Bergh was caught at first slip off Eldred Hawken, as Bjorn Fortuin then joined Pretorius in a partnership of 144 off just 155 balls. That bettered a ground record set in the year Pretorius was born, improving on the 133 Northern Transvaal legends Noel Day and Anton Ferreira shared against Transvaal in the 1988/89 season.
It is also a record for the Lions in Sunfoil Series cricket, surpassing the 143 Matthew Harris and Eugene Moleon put on versus the Cape Cobras at the Wanderers in 2005/6. Their previous best against the Titans was the 137 Pretorius added with Dale Deeb in Benoni last season.
Fortuin, who scored 194 for North-West in the semi-pro competition earlier this season, launched a sensational attack on the second new ball, taking Hawken and Ethy Mbhalati for six fours off consecutive deliveries.
The Titans had taken the new ball with the Lions on 304 for six and the day’s bragging rights being very much in the balance, but they brought nothing to the table in the last hour and the defending champions duly lashed 107 runs off the last 15 overs of the day.
It was all a dramatic turnaround from the rest of the day when the Titans chipped in with regular wickets to keep the pressure on the Lions.
The visitors won the toss and elected to bat first, but three wickets would come the Titans’ way in the morning session as Marchant de Lange removed openers Stephen Cook (6) and Rassie van der Dussen (30), both caught behind off shortish deliveries, in a fiery opening burst, and spinner Tabraiz Shamsi had Dominic Hendricks (38) caught at slip just before lunch.
Shamsi was the obvious threat on a dry, flat pitch, and Alviro Petersen and Temba Bavuma elected to attack him after the break. They had rattled up a run-a-ball fifty partnership to take the Lions to 134 for three, but Bavuma (27) then tried to reverse-sweep the in-form wrist-spinner and was trapped lbw.
Titans captain Henry Davids soon brought leading wicket-taker De Lange back on and Petersen greeted his return with a magnificent drive through extra cover for four and then a tickle to the fine leg boundary. But the veteran batsman was on his way for 34 next ball as he reached to drive a full, very wide delivery from the fast bowler, and scooped it to extra cover, where Heino Kuhn dived to take a good catch.
That left the Lions on 156 for five and in trouble, but Van den Bergh and Pretorius put them on the front foot as they reached 231 for five at tea.
Pretorius, peppering the on-side boundary, then dominated the final session with Fortuin as the Lions picked up six batting bonus points to close the gap on the log-leading Titans to 14.36 points.