Titans flattened by a ghetto blaster
Trevor Chesterfield - 19 March 1999

CricInfo report

Centurion (South Africa) - For those who have a sound knowledge of the South Central, Los Angeles, Crenshaw District, where Sundays are spent on Crenshaw Boulevard in cars pumping their ghetto blasters with decibels higher than the ears can handle, SuperSport Centurion (Park) would not have been out of place.

There we were, Friday afternoon, quietly waiting for the start of the Northerns Titans quarter-final against Free State Eagles: a match under lights in the Standard Bank Cup series. And, just as the telephone rang with a connection from Sri Lanka which was as flawed as Northerns performance in a match they lost by 22 runs, we were deafened by something totally unnatural..

The local ghetto blasters were switched on (''we have to test the system'' came the grumpy reply) and the Colombo connection was so distorted from the force of the speaker vibrations that the voice at the other end of the line was lost; wavering as each raucous beat upped the SPL (sound pressure level).

Little wonder that Colombo gave up trying to compete.

It took the Colombo connection 24 hours to recover their nerve to call again, adding about $(US)40 extra (or R250 ) to the telephone bill; and just to relay a message which was a lot more simple than the way Northerns blew themselves into sound orbit.

Even those watching the game on TV from Durban were moved to comment ``You must have the noisiest sound system in the country.'' It's a wonder those watching the musical fountains at the nearby centre did not complain about the competition.

There was also agony in Peter Kirsten voice when he explained how Northerns, favoured to play in the semi-final, had been marginalised by a system which saw Northerns dreams of a Standard Bank double vanished on a dew-soaked evening and Free State set up a meeting with Border in next Friday's semi-final.

Even the moderate target of 208 for victory proved to be just one step too many for Northerns, who after wrapping up the league title two months before had hoped to make their second successive day/night cup final. At one stage it seemed that Northerns had dug their way out of trouble with a partnership of 107 between man of the match Gerald Dros and Dennis Smith.

The pair had taken Northerns from a dodgy 51 for four in the over 15th over to 158 20 overs later and another improbable victory loomed for the Titans after being penalised an over for slow overrate. They rotated the strike with smart running between wickets and looked for runs - sewing seeds of confusion in the Free State fielding ranks.

It also appeared that Northerns skipper, Mark Davis' , decision to field first because of the dew factor had paid off as the Free State bowlers had problems gripping the ball.

But Smith, with 45 next to his name - his highest limited-overs score - chanced his arm once too often. He foolishly moved down the pitch and in an attempt to loft the rotund all-rounder Kosie Venter over his head seemed to lose sight of the ball and was neatly stumped.

Although Dros did what he could to farm the strike and bat through the rest of the innings, Smith's dismissal heralded, to the dreadful ghetto blaster sound, the sort of collapse fashionable during the West Indies tour. Certainly not a Northerns side which prided themselves on their professionalism. Six wickets for 27 runs was just not good enough on a night which promised much but disinter grated in the sort of nightmare slow-motion replay which the coach, Peter Kirsten, must have dreaded.

As it was, the way Free State began their innings, coach Andy Moles and skipper Gerhardus Liebenberg were unimpressed at being bowled out in the 45th over and at least 50 runs shy of the game-plan target they set themselves.

Then again, Northerns did not help their own cause either. You could almost see Kosie Venter's eyes pop out at the lolly-pops served up by David Townsend and Quentin Ferreira in their opening overs. Both are swing bowlers and their decision to dig the ball in seemed an ill-directed plan with or without consultation of the captain.

And as much as Venter helped himself to easy runs we also had Wian Smit indulging in a little smash and grab of his own: 25 off 17 balls, which included a five through the sort of misfield which would embarrass a schoolboy. The first five overs were a disaster: 38 runs as the bowling, normally so tight and accurate ruptured with the run-rate hemorrhaging alarmingly.

Although Greg Smith initiated the first breakthrough in the ninth over with Smit's wicket Free State had already raced to 60, and Venter's dismissal two overs later did nothing to suggest that the runs being badly leaked through untidy bowling would be plugged as quickly as they were. Again it was a brilliant patching together by Pierre Joubert and Davis which pulled Northerns back into the game.

Joubert's brilliance at limited-overs level and which has emerged this season was noted by national selectors Rushdie Majiet and Morris Garda. It is also a measure of the support shown by Kirsten in the young man's ability and Davis to back himself to stem the tide of runs. Davis combined with Dennis Smith to get rid of Boeta Dippenaar cheaply enough, while Morne van Wyk held the innings together with a well executed half century in an anchor role position.

Yet, as Kirsten pointed out around lunch time the day after the match, it is all very well restricting a side to a total whch Northerns should have overcome without too many problems. Only losing three top batsmen: Mike Rindel for a duck, Roy Pienaar for 14 and Martin van Jaarsveld for only eight made it that much harder. And then the horrendous collapse of six wickets for only 27 runs in 47 balls makes you wonder about the lack of competitive edge.

Then again, Kirsten provided the answer which poses a serious query for the scheduling of such games toward the end of the season. ``We had too long a lay off between this game and our last match,'' the coach commented. ``We knew it was always going to be hard. In this case we lost the competitive edge we had when wrapping up the league and then winning those two SuperSport Series matches was missing, which is sad, but we have to live with it.

``Also, it was going to be tough, the way the competitions have been structured for one side to win more than one trophy,'' he added. ``We know that after we had won the league and the competition we faced it was going to be tough.

``I go back to the lay off, though, It was just too long for the players and it showed . . . ``

Trevor Chesterfield Cricket Writer Pretoria News t_chesterfield@hotmail.com