Mutizwa was the man who shattered Southern Rocks’ dreams of a maiden Logan Cup victory last September with his match-winning innings of 164 not out in Masvingo, and he reached three figures again in fine style on his home ground. But Brian Vitori led a superb fightback for the visitors in the evening with the second new ball, ripping through the tail to take five cheap wickets, keeping his team well in the match.
Mashonaland Eagles won the toss and decided to bat on a hot, sunny day on a pretty flat pitch. Southern Rocks have a good new-ball attack in Vitori and Tinashe Panyangara, and it was a slow start. Mashonaland Eagles seem to have despaired of finding a good specialist opening batsman, so Tino Mutombodzi was sent in again to partner Cephas Zhuwao, Zimbabwe’s answer to Virender Sehwag, playing his first Logan Cup match of the season.
Unfortunately for the spectators (numbering single figures), Zhuwao did little that resembled the aggressive Indian opener on this occasion. Perhaps playing under instructions, he played straight, grim cricket, concentrating on keeping the bowlers out, and for seeing the shine off the new ball and making a rare successful start for their team, the oddly paired openers did their job. They put on 62 in 93 minutes until Zhuwao was caught at the wicket off Prince Masvaure for 27, scored off 63 balls and with only one four. Mutombodzi soon followed, yorked by Vitori in his second spell for 40. Vitori bowled very economically but at times did not make the batsman play enough, while they in turn were only too happy to let the ball go by when they could.
On the stroke of lunch Hilary Matanga had Rory Hamilton-Brown caught at short leg without scoring, so with the score on 85 for three Southern Rocks left the field on a high. The afternoon session was harder, though, as Forster Mutizwa, the Scourge of the Rocks, settled in with Stuart Matsikenyeri. Southern Rocks believed they had Matsikenyeri caught at the wicket early in his innings, and they had to wait till he got 21 before they would winkle him out; a ball from Panyangara flew unexpectedly from the pitch, surprising him and causing him to lob a catch into the gully. After that Regis Chakabva came in and played in his usual enterprising way, while Mutizwa glided smoothly to his fifty off 70 balls. By tea the pair had taken the score to 190 for four.
For a long time after tea it seemed as though the pattern of the match was for Mashonaland Eagles to amass a large score while Southern Rocks could do little more than try to contain them ineffectually. Mutizwa and Chakabva continued their partnership, batting with ease by working the ball continually around the field rather than by big hitting. Mutizwa reached his century off 159 balls with a lofted on-drive, and Chakabva was close to his when Vitori and Panyangara took the second new ball.
This brought about a remarkable turning point in the innings. In his first over with the new ball Vitori brought a delivery back to trap Chakabva lbw (95 off 126 balls), and in his next over moved one the other way to have Mutizwa caught at second slip. He had made 118 off 194 balls, with ten fours and a six, while the pair had added 172 for the fifth wicket. Vitori also claimed the wicket of Mark Mbofana quickly, bowling him for 4.
Panyangara then got in on the act by trapping Nathan Waller lbw without scoring, and then uprooting Kyle Jarvis’s stumps for 1. It didn’t take long for Vitori to bowl the last man, Tatenda Gumunyu-Manatsa, leaving Raymond Price unbeaten on 6. The last six wickets had tumbled for only 19 runs, a complete turnabout in fortunes, and Vitori’s five wickets cost just 26 runs. He was well supported by Panyangara, who took three for 30. The onus will be on Southern Rocks’ fragile batting to continue the fightback on the second day.