Matabeleland Tuskers won the toss and became the first team to opt to bat first during this tournament. With their powerful overseas batting line-up, they can certainly do so with confidence, but they chose not to play on their opponents’ aversion to being put in first. Tom Smith and Chris Gayle opened the batting, and by good strokeplay the score reached 40 in the fifth over before Smith was caught at the wicket for 14 off the bowling of Shingi Masakadza.
All eyes, though, were on Chris Gayle, the hero of the moment, and although he moved the score along quickly he never reached top gear. He had scored 45 off 34 balls when he miscued a shot and was caught at third man. The score at this stage was 105 for two in the 14th over – reasonable but by no means devastating, especially when compared to the devastation of the Mashonaland Eagles innings this morning.
Charles Coventry now took over, scoring the same number of runs as Gayle but off eight fewer deliveries. He was dropped at long-on when on 32 shortly after Gayle departed, and two sixes later was caught in the same position off a similar stroke by a different fielder for his 45. His innings was notable for five sixes but no fours. There was some good batting from Craig Ervine (23) and Keith Dabengwa (29) before the innings closed at 167 for six. Prosper Utseya with two for 23 returned the best figures, while Shingi Masakadza took also took two but at almost twice the price.
Phil Mustard was quickly off the blocks for Mountaineers. Ten runs came off the first over of the innings, from Keegan Meth; twelve from Glenn Querl’s first, and both included a six from Mustard. After five overs the score was 51, of which Mustard had 33. The opening partnership with Hamilton Masakadza came to a disappointing end at 64 in the seventh over, as Mustard was slow to respond to his partner’s call for a quick single and was brilliantly run out by Ervine. He made 44 off 26 balls.
The game slowed down temporary, until Masakadza opened his shoulders and hit a ball from Dabengwa over the media centre for six. He followed this with an even bigger one over midwicket, off a short ball from Brad Staddon. The 100 went up in the 12th over, giving them an advantage on Matabeleland Tuskers at the same stage, and Masakadza went to his fifty shortly afterwards off 39 balls. 48 were needed off the final six overs, with eight wickets in hand – but then Timycen Maruma got out and the pressure increased.
Four overs left and 39 runs were needed, with Chris Harris partnering Masakadza. Then both batsmen hit a six in an over from Smith, and in the penultimate over a four and six by Masakadza off successive balls virtually sealed the match. Two were needed off the final over, and a lofted boundary by Masakadza off the second ball ended the match and took Mountaineers through to the finals.
Due to the structure of this tournament, Matabeleland Tuskers could still earn themselves a place in the final, but have to face a play-off with Mashonaland Eagles tomorrow to get through. After beginning the tournament with three good victories, they have now lost two matches in a row, the exact opposite record to that of their opponents. They will need to arrest the decline in form, and if so will face Mountaineers again in the final on Sunday, with both teams having won one match apiece in their meetings so far this tournament.