After a narrow victory at home over Grey College, Saint Andrew’s will face the winners of the Northern Cape section of the Coca-Cola Schools T20 Challenge for the right to represent the Knights at the national finals of the competition.

With the win over Grey on Sunday, Saints claimed the title of Free State champions for a third year in succession. The 2018 Saint Andrew’s side went on to become the first team from the Knights’ region to win the national title.

Saints qualified for the title-decider with wins over Voortrekker, by 176 runs, and Sasolburg, by 100 runs, on Saturday. Grey, meanwhile, beat Goudveld by six wickets and the Kroonstad Hub by 167 runs to secure their place in the final. In 2018, Saint Andrew’s cruised to a 59-run victory with the title on the line, but this time around it was a tough battle from the first ball to the last.

Both teams hoped to win the toss and bat first, but the coin fell in favour of Grey and they put on their pads. With their opening bowler, Henré Koekemoer, unable to bowl due to a back injury, Saints opted to start with an all-spin combination of off-spinner Pheko Moletsane and left-arm spinner Naleli Sekhibane and the duo immediately seized the initiative for their side, destroying Grey’s top order. In no time at all, the first four men in the batting line-up were back in the pavilion as Grey stumbled to 8 for 4.

Juan-Dee Olivier, in at number five, steadied the innings, but after a calamitous start Grey struggled to score quickly. Olivier went on to make 35 from 38 deliveries, with two sixes and near the end of the innings, Dean de Bruin struck some big blows. He finished unbeaten on 33 from 22 balls, with two sixes and three fours, but Grey managed only 96 for 7 in their 20 overs as Saints fielded superbly, pouching every catch that came their way.

Pheko Moletsane starred with the ball, snaring 3 for 7 in his four overs, while SA Colts’ leg-spinner Ruan Cronjé picked up 2 for 15 in his four, and Naleli Sekhibane claimed 1 for 15.

Saint Andrew’s were chasing a low total, but the wicket was slow, which was why both sides had wanted to bat first. They started their reply better than Grey began their innings, but were also in trouble early on, on 13 for 2, with both openers out.

Ruan Cronjé and the captain Corné Viljoen shared a stand of 28 before Cronjé was out for 16. Just four runs later, Viljoen followed him back to the change room. Grey then claimed a further two cheap wickets to leave Saint Andrew’s in strife on 59 for 6. It looked as if the game had tilted in Grey’s favour.

In another twist to the tale, Reece van Staden and JD Bruwer pulled it back in favour of Saints with a stand of 26 runs, taking the total to 85, but Bruwer was then run out.

It came down to the final over and finally, with three balls remaining, Bruwer and Nathan van der Nest saw Saint Andrew’s to a three-wicket victory.

Van Staden finished on an invaluable 19 not out from 24 balls, while Van der Nest ended with five from six. Dean de Bruin led the Grey attack with a return of 2 for 12 from his four overs.

The difference, in the end, was the fielding of the two teams, with Saints bagging their chances and Grey putting a few down. Saint Andrew’s conceded only four leg byes, while Grey’s extras totalled 17 and in a low-scoring game of such fine margins that was too many runs given to the opposition.

SCORES

Grey College 96 for 7 (Juan-Dee Olivier 35, Dean de Bruin 33, Pheko Moletsane 3 for 7, Ruan Cronjé 2 for 15) Saint Andrew’s 97 for 7 (Reece van Staden 19, Dean de Bruin 2 for 12)