Cape Town - Albie Morkel made an immediate impact on his return to franchise cricket with a double-wicket opening burst and a belligerent unbeaten half-century to help the Titans down the table-topping Cape Cobras by five wickets at Newlands on Friday evening.
Morkel smashed 63 not out off 52 balls (4x4, 4x6) during an unbroken 85-run partnership for the sixth wicket with Grant Thompson (36 not out off 61 balls) to steer the visitors past the Cobras' paltry 213 all out with 37 balls remaining.
The former Proteas all-rounder was playing his first match since undergoing ankle surgery last August and showed no signs of rustiness. He started slowly with the bat before closing out a game that might have had a tense finish after the Titans had lost the in-form Qasim Adams for 31 (69 balls, 2x4) to leave them precariously placed at 130/5.
But once settled, Morkel showed that he remains one of the cleanest hitters of a cricket ball in South Africa by smashing SA Engelbrecht for 20 runs in the 44th over to finish off the game in style.
He clubbed the Cobras off-spinner for two massive sixes over long-on and mid-wicket respectively, while he also slog-swept a boundary and cleared mid-on.
Thompson, meanwhile, played the ideal anchor role to both Morkel and Adams earlier, which ensured the Cobras could not find a way through after bowling well for long periods.
Seamers Dane Patterson and Mthokozisi Shezi (2/26) were both impressive on the night. Patterson bowled briskly and maintained the pressure throughout, hitting Adams on the helmet with a well-directed bouncer early on.
He had only conceded one run after four overs and also picked up a wicket in a miserly opening spell.
But the Cobras needed something more spectacular from their bowlers after Morkel pegged back the home side early on Friday afternoon. He removed both Richard Levi and Andrew Puttick, who have been the most prolific opening partnership in the competition.
Morkel removed both openers in the space of two overs, reducing the hosts to 13/2 after Cobras captain Robin Peterson had elected to bat on a sunny afternoon in Cape Town.
Puttick, the tournament's leading run-scorer, was clean bowled for three while Levi was adjudged leg-before-wicket for eight.
The latter was not very happy with his dismissal, believing the ball had hit him high up the leg.
Stiaan van Zyl, who returned from SA A duty, showed his class by trying to rebuild the Cobras' innings with Omphile Ramela. The left-handed duo put on a 62 runs but their hard work was undone when Junior Dala had Ramela caught by Morkel for 19.
This precipitated the Cobras' middle-order collapse with young wicket-keeper Clyde Fortuin being bowled for a first-ball duck shortly afterwards by Titans captain Henry Davids.
Although another 61-run partnership between Van Zyl and Justin Kemp followed, the Cobras could not lift their run-rate.
And when Van Zyl attempted to do so, he perished when Graeme van Buuren took an excellent caught-and-bowled chance after the left-hander drilled a straight drive back at him. Van Zy departed for 65 off 108 balls.
Although both Kemp (33) and Engelbrecht (34) added some respectability to the total with a couple of cameos, the Cobras total was never going to be enough to defend against a strong Titans batting line-up.
The Cobras remained on the top of the table with 25 points from eight matches, but it was the Titans who leapfrogged into second place with 17 points and still a match in hand with two rounds remaining before the playoffs.