First Southern Rocks, then Mountaineers and now Mid-West Rhinos have come to Harare Sports Club and crumbled weakly against the home side, though today the last-named did manage to stage a recovery of sorts. However, Mashonaland Eagles always had the game in hand and, thanks mainly to a fine opening partnership between Cephas Zhuwao and Simba Gupo, they easily claimed victory on Duckworth-Lewis when rain ended the match. The result means that Mashonaland Eagles are virtually certain to finish top of the Pro50 log and claim home advantage in the final.
The weather was mostly cloudy as the big battalion won the toss and eagerly put Mid-West Rhinos into bat. The pitch was rather slow and two-paced, with assistance to the seam bowlers in the first hour, as all expected it to be, but Mid-West Rhinos’ top order did themselves no favours. Within four overs the openers had given their wickets away to soft dismissals, Vusi Sibanda (0) skying a catch off one of his notorious compulsive pulls and Steve Marillier (4) driving a gentle catch to mid-off.
Riki Wessels (4) and Remembrance Nyathi (0) also failed to dig in and assess the pitch, and the score was a dismal 22 for four in the eighth over. Gary Ballance, the form batsman of the season, dug in for a while with Roland Benade, but when a ball from Nathan Waller flicked the bail from his off stump when 17, that appeared to be the end of the visitors’ hopes of any sort of competitive total.
Benade, however, played superbly, showing far better judgment than his predecessors and playing good strokes. He was now joined by the debutant Nyasha Mayavo, who played a very sensible supporting innings. They put on 75 together in almost 20 overs before Benade finally edged a slash off Waller to the keeper and departed for an outstanding innings of 67. Simon Mugava also showed good determination and form on a pitch that was now giving the bowlers and another 50 runs came before Mayavo was bowled by Douglas Hondo for an impressive 38. Mugava made 31 and the innings closed at 189 for nine; they were still in with a chance. Trevor Garwe bowled very well to take three wickets for 24, as did Waller with three for 40.
Zhuwao and Gupo showed much more wisdom than their opposing openers when they began the Mashonaland Eagles innings, taking their time to assess the pitch and the bowlers before opening up. Zhuwao, a noted hitter, showed particular restraint until he felt safe in opening up and attacking the bowling. There were two breaks for rain, but they survived and were coasting without any trouble until Zhuwao ran himself out for 58 off 51 balls (8 fours and a six). The opening stand was worth an invaluable 92 off 16 overs.
Michael Thornely, of Sussex, was trapped lbw by a full toss from Richard Muzhange without scoring, and more rain was on its way. Mashonaland Eagles were still well ahead and their main concern was for 20 overs to be bowled for Duckworth-Lewis to come into effect and a result to be calculated. They stayed out in light rain until this happened, when the score was 102 for two, and then returned to the pavilion.
The finish was quite farcical, as the umpires decided play would recommence at 5.30, and Mashonaland Eagles had to reach 118 in four further overs – another 16 runs – to win. The players all took the field, then the umpires consulted, there was a long discussion with the players, and then they all left the field, presumably for bad light. The crowd would not have been amused, had there ever been one. Sadly this compared may flourish elsewhere in the country, but Mashonaland Eagles, undoubtedly the best of the teams, is quite unmarketed and plays in front of empty stands.