Sisanda Magala completed a 10th career five-for late on a see-saw opening day to help the Imperial Lions fight back against the VKB Knights in their 4-Day Domestic Series encounter in Johannesburg on Monday.
The seamer claimed five for 57, including two wickets from what proved to be the final deliveries of the day, as the visitors closed on 291 for nine at Imperial Wanderers Stadium.
That total in itself represented a remarkable recovery for Allan Donald’s charges, who at one stage had sunk to 74 for and looked to be headed for a far lower first-innings total after losing the toss and being put in to bat.
However, Grant Mokoena’s half-century (50 off 148 balls, 6 fours) and a career-best by Migael Pretorius (73 not out off 91 balls, 11 fours) did the bulk of the recovery, before Magala’s late wickets ensured the day ended finely poised.
The home side, without a win so far in the competition and minus a host of their star names due to national duty, made a bright start to the clash by striking regularly during the opening part of the day.
Jonathan Vandiar (18), Matthew Kleinveldt (26), Andries Gous (4) and Raynard van Tonder (8) were all dismissed in the opening 20.4 overs – Magala, Tladi Bokako (2/62) and Malusi Siboto (1/24) doing the early damage.
Farhaan Behardien (35) lead the initial recovery alongside Mokoena, but once he fell the Central Franchise were still in a huge hole at 121 for five.
But the tables turned dramatically from there.
Mokoena, playing his first game of the season, added 51 for the sixth wicket with stand-in captain Shaun von Berg (27), before a 67-run partnership with Pretorius, who went on to surpass his previous best franchise score of 62 that was recorded in the previous round.
The runs continued to flow via a blazing 27 off 31 balls from the fit-again Gerald Coetzee that took the Knights to the final over of play at 291 for seven.
But Magala then landed two crucial blows, taking out the fast bowler as well as Mbulelo Budaza from successive deliveries to even things up late on. The former Warriors man will be on a hat-trick when he takes the ball on the second morning.