Saint Andrew’s School from Bloemfontein, the Knights’ champions, were crowned national champions at the Coca-Cola Schools T20 Challenge finals in Pretoria on Sunday after an extraordinary fightback against Hilton College.
Saints, who had played most of the season without their star all-rounder Gerald Coetzee, who had been on duty for the national team at the ICC under-19 World Cup, where he was named in the Team of the Tournament, were expected to challenge for the title, but they had far from an easy ride.
They opened the competition with a convincing eight-wicket victory over Prestige College, but in their very next outing were well beaten by Hilton College, going down by 47 runs. Although they had lost that game, there were twists in the storyline that Garnett Tarr and his team thought they could turn around should the two sides meet later in the competition.
With rain falling on day two, the first match of the day was reduced to a nail-biting five overs a side hit out. Saints managed 46 for 3 in their five against Cape Cobras’ champs, Rondebosch, but that didn’t look like enough when ‘Bosch made it to 25 without loss from two overs. Saint Andrew’s, though, clamped down and the Cape Town school managed only 17 more runs from the next three overs for the loss of three wickets, leaving the boys from Bloemfontein the winners by four runs.
Next up, Saint Andrew’s took on Warriors’ champions, Grey High School. Grey were unbeaten and knew a win over Saints would likely propel them into the final. When they restricted Saints to only 124 for 8, it looked like Grey were on their way to the title-decider, but Saint Andrew’s hit back early and hard when the Port Elizabeth school visited the crease.
SA Schools Colts’ off-spinner Pheko Moletsane struck twice in his first over, while SA under-19 star Gerald Coetzee also removed two batsmen in his first over to leave Grey staggering on 1 for 4 in the second over their innings. They fought valiantly to recover, but the task was too great and they were bowled out for 105. Thanks to their 19-run win, Saint Andrew’s drew level with Grey on points, but they also held the head-to-head tie-breaker.
They needed to beat Graeme College in their last cross-pool match to book a place in the final and they managed that comfortably, winning by 57 runs to set up a rematch with Hilton College for the title.
The Dolphins’ champions, ranked number one in the country, won the toss and elected to bat first. They tried to be aggressive against the Saint Andrew’s bowling, but Saints stuck to the task at hand and kept the run rate down, while also claiming some wickets along the way.
Just after Hilton had reached three figures, Henré Koekemoer struck, sending three batsman back to the pavilion in one over, and a run out further undermined Hilton’s pursuit of runs as they slipped to 111 for 7. They went on to tally 123 for 8 in their 20 overs, with Koekemoer ending with 3 for 11.
Saint Andrew’s run chase faltered in the opening few overs as they were reduced to 1 for 3, with Koekemoer out for one, and Gerald Coetzee and Calvin Flanegan, two of only three matric boys in the team, out for ducks.
Captain Garnett Tarr was then joined in the middle by Ruan Cronjé and they set about rebuilding the innings. It was slow going against good bowling and fielding. After 10 overs, Saint Andrew’s were on 35 for 3. They needed another 90 runs in 10 overs.
Cronjé was the first to start breaking the shackles, smashing a huge six that resulted in a stoppage as the ball was sought. It was the first boundary that Saints had hit. Their next two boundaries were also sixes and the run chase was on.
Batting beautifully, Cronjé and Tarr proceeded to take the game away from Hilton. With victory in sight, the skipper was finally out, LBW for 44, after a stand of 105 with Cronjé.
Pheko Moletsane made his way to the wicket and he and Cronjé then kept the runs rolling to eventually see Saint Andrew’s to a six-wicket victory with two balls to spare.
The man of the match award went the way of Ruan Cronjé for his undefeated 65 off of 59 balls, with three sixes and two fours, while Henré Koekemoer picked up the award for the Bowler of the Tournament. It was the first time that a team from the Knights’ region had won the T20 national title.
Late in 2017, Saint Andrew’s also won the Saint John’s Rams T20 tournament, the biggest T20 event in Zimbabwe. In the December holidays, also under the guidance of Saints’ coach Gregg Hobson, an old boy of the school, the Knights Cubs team, featuring four current Saint Andrew’s boys and two 2017 matriculants, won the Cubs Franchise Week, recording five victories in five matches.