JON-JON SMUTS started the tournament with a match-winning century against Gauteng and finished it with another match-winning batting performance to carry Eastern Province to a convincing 31-run victory over Northern Cape in the final of the Africa T20 Cup at the Oudtshoorn Recreation Ground on Saturday.
Smuts innings today of 40 off 24 balls (5 fours and 2 sixes) was not the highest score of the Eastern Province total of 165/6 with Colin Ackermann making 46 off 31 balls (4 fours and 2 sixes) but in the context of the match it was decisive. He and Eddie Moore put on 62 runs without loss in the power play overs to which Northern Cape were only able to reply with 36/1 at the same stage.
That they were not able to get back into the match thereafter says a good deal about the all-round quality of the Eastern Province team. Smuts finished as leading runs scorer (196) from the 5 innings he played at this year’s tournament while Sisanda Magala (12) was the leading wicket-taker closely followed by Solo Nqweni (11) from one match fewer.
Magala had an opening spell of 1/9 in 2 overs and he put Northern Cape under pressure from the start, dismissing the latter’s star performer of the tournament, Patrick Kruger, with his first delivery.
Another big factor in Eastern Province’s success has been the quality of their fielding and today nobody exemplified it better than wicketkeeper Clyde Fortuin who took a brilliant diving catch to dismiss Jacques Snyman while his stumping of Aubrey Swanepoel, another key batsman for the losers, was of similar quality.
Northern Cape never managed to put partnerships together with only four of their batsmen reaching double figures.
Once again, as is often the case in a final, experience played a major role which was evident in the performances of Smuts, Magala, Werner Coetsee and Swanepoel for their respective sides. The latter two pulled the game back for Northern Cape when Eastern Province looked set for a total in the region of 200.
Nevertheless the 165 that they made proved to be more than enough in the end.
Eastern Province were undoubtedly the best team in the tournament, winning four of their five matches by convincing margin. It was only in the first pool match against Gauteng, which they won by 3 runs, that they were genuinely tested.