The tables were turned, however, as magnificent innings from Brendan Taylor (75 not out off 54 balls) and Gary Ballance (67 off 34 balls) put on 105 in nine overs and brought about an amazing victory for Mid-West Rhinos with three balls to spare.
Mid-West Rhinos won the toss and decided to field on a warm, sunny day, the best weather of the tournament so far. It did them no good, however, as although bowling reasonably well they were able to take only one wicket – and the fact that all the batting was done by overseas players serves to emphasize the inordinate effect their batch of overseas players is having on the balance of the tournament. In the second over Tom Smith was brilliantly run out by Edward Rainsford, and this was the only wicket Mid-West Rhinos managed to secure.
The rest of the innings was the Chris Gayle show, with Paul Horton playing a good supporting role. Gayle tore the attack apart at times, although he had periods of devastating hitting and quieter periods where he worked the ball around the field more often. His first great assault was against Rainsford, whom he hit for two sixes in an over. Later Graeme Cremer came under the hammer, three sixes off four balls, the first landing in the television balcony and the third clearing it completely.
Gayle sent up a huge skier over extra cover in the penultimate over, but the fielder seemed to lose sight of the ball and didn’t even attempt a catch. Then, in the final over, he reached his century with a towering six off Richard Muzhange’s fifth ball, and added another six off the final delivery to finish with 109 off 59 balls. He hit seven fours and eight sixes, and the bowlers were helpless against him; the only one to escape severe punishment was the off-spinner Simon Mugava, whose four overs cost 20 runs. Horton finished with 47 not out, and the total 171 for one.
Mid-West Rhinos had an almost impossible target. The experiment of opening with Riki Wessels failed, as he swatted a catch to short extra cover in the third over. Brendan Taylor, knowing his responsibilities, spent 14 balls over his first six runs before swinging a ball from Keegan Meth over midwicket for a big six. Now he went into top gear and found a good partner in Lou Vincent (25). When Vincent went at the end of the tenth over, though, at 62 for two, 110 were still needed off the remaining ten.
Two sixes off three balls from Keith Dabengwa brought up Taylor ’s fifty, off 38 balls. Gary Ballance proved an even better partner, reaching new heights in T20 cricket with a remarkable innings of skill and improvisation. He scored even faster than Taylor , reaching fifty off 28 balls. Such blistering batting left 19 to be scored off the final two overs. With a six from Ballance, before he was caught at mid-on off the final delivery, the 19th over went for 14, needing Taylor to make sure five came off the last over, to be bowled by Gayle. He duly hit the first for four to tie the scores, and pulled the third for another boundary to bring off a remarkable victory. Taylor hit five fours and three sixes in his unbeaten 75, while Ballance’s startling 67 had six fours and four sixes.
The message is clear – Matabeleland Tuskers can be beaten after all. This match has brought the tournament to life.