Mountaineers – 136 in 45.4 overs (Tapiwa Mufudza 31*, Roy Kaia 29; Thabo Mboyi 5/46, Chris Mpofu 3/27, Tawanda Mupariwa 2/48)
Matabeleland Tuskers 142/2 in 44 overs (Craig Ervine 61*, Nkosana Mpofu 44*; Shingirai Masakadza 1/22, Tapiwa Mufudza 1/27)
Stumps – Day 1: Matabeleland Tuskers lead by six runs with eight wickets remaining in the first innings
WITH two rounds to go in the Logan Cup competition, Mountaineers have an eight-point lead in the standings, but on Tuesday they were given quite a shock by their bottom-of-the-table opponents, Matabeleland Tuskers.
The visitors (this is a ‘home’ match for Mountaineers) had taken a strong grip on the match at the end of the day, thanks to their top-class bowling, led by Thabo Mboyi with five wickets, and a dominating innings from Craig Ervine (61 not out), aided by the more stolid Nkosana Mpofu (44 not out).
Players, officials and media alike rejoiced in the return of franchise cricket to the better facilities of Harare Sports Club, the one drawback being the state of the pitch.
It was obvious from the start that this was likely to be a low-scoring match, with a good chance of a finish within three days. The pitch was grassy and immediately proved helpful to both seam and spin.
The day was humid and overcast, the outfield was slow and Matabeleland Tuskers were very happy to put Mountaineers in to bat on winning the toss.
Kevin Kasuza and Innocent Kaia opened the batting to the bowling of Tawanda Mupariwa and Mboyi.
Mupariwa, with a recent history of devastating spells with the new ball, was the most obvious threat, and the batsmen played him with great care, but they perhaps underestimated Mboyi.
The right-arm seamer does not have an impressive record for his team, but this morning he found the pitch to his liking and bowled superbly, moving the ball both off the pitch and in the air.
At first his luck was not good – he failed to hold a sharp low return chance from Kaia when the batsman had four, and then Kasuza, on eight, survived a low chance to mid-off.
Kasuza immediately hit a four, but then flashed at the next delivery and edged it to the keeper, scoring 12 of an opening partnership of 26. Advertisement
Next ball Timycen Maruma pushed forward, for the ball to feather the edge of his bat and give the keeper, Shoun Handirisi, another catch.
Chris Mpofu, playing a rare four-day match in the hope that his body will not fall apart before the end of it, worked up a good pace as the batsmen struggled to 50, but on that total Handirisi, up to the stumps to Mupariwa, brought off a smart stumping to dismiss Kaia for 24. He had looked the most assured batsman of the morning, but failed to push through for a major score.
Two runs later Mpofu had Foster Mutizwa caught at the wicket for 11, and thus the keeper had a hand in each of the first four wickets to fall.
Roy Kaia and Kudzai Sauramba reacted positively, refusing to let the bowlers tie them down, but on the stroke of lunch Sauramba (seven) was given out lbw well down the pitch to Mboyi, but hitting across the line. The score at the interval was 78 for five.
The downward path for Mountaineers continued during the afternoon session, with Mpofu trapping Shingirai Masakadza lbw for three and then removing the top scorer thus far, Roy Kaia, for 29 – he top-edged an attempted hook and Handirisi made his fifth dismissal of the innings.
At 92 for eight there was a chance that Mountaineers might fall short of 100, but a dogged stand of 20 for the ninth wicket between Tapiwa Mufudza and Tatenda Mupunga avoided that indignity.
The bowlers for their part seemed to have slackened off somewhat, instead of seeking to drive home their advantage to the end.
Then, as the sun came out, the last wicket put on a spirited 24, just two short of the highest partnerships of the innings, 26 for the first and fifth wickets. Mufudza was the leading figure, with 31 not out, while Victor Nyauchi (five) held up his end.
In the end Nyauchi was caught in the slips to give Mboyi his first five-wicket haul in 36 first-class matches, at a cost of 46 runs. Mpofu took three, Mupariwa two, and Handirisi had his five dismissals, the total being 136.
Hard as Nyauchi and Mupunga tried with the new ball when Matabeleland Tuskers batted, they could not pose the same threat to the batsmen, Brian Chari and Nkosana Mpofu, as the Matabeleland seamers had done, and the very disciplined yet positive approach of the batsmen gave their team a sound start.
They had put on 42 together in 13.4 overs when a light shower of rain drove the players from the field.
They were off the field for 18 minutes, and only one run was added before Chari cut a ball from Mufudza straight to backward point, a soft dismissal for 25.
Bornaparte Mujuru struggled to three off 22 balls before he lunged outside the off stump to a ball from Masakadza and edged it into the slips; 52 for two.
Mufudza was bowling superbly, spinning the ball sharply and tying the batsmen down, especially the left-handed Mpofu, bowling his first 10 overs for seven runs.
Craig Ervine came in and began to fight back, taking up the challenge against Mufudza in particular, scoring 11 from his next over, including a six and a four. He drove Mupunga for three fours in an over to bring up his fifty off just 47 balls.
Just before the close Matabeleland Tuskers took the lead with only two wickets down, no bowler being able to restrain Ervine. T20 cricket may not be quite his game, but in the other versions he is masterly, and this is one of his best innings.
Unless Mountaineers can show some powerful fighting spirit, this may prove to be the day they had the Logan Cup wrenched from their grasp.