They produced a good all-round bowling performance in the morning to finish the Mountaineers’ first innings cheaply, and then, in a season when good batting displays have been few and far between, their top order responded superbly with discipline and determination. By the close they were 162 runs ahead with only one wicket down, a position of equal strength to that enjoyed by the home side 24 hours earlier, thanks to fine innings from their top three.
Mountaineers had begun the day at 270 for four wickets, a lead of 17 runs over Mid-West Rhinos and with the potential to build a match-winning lead. Daryl Mitchell, 173 not out overnight, never looked comfortable, though, and added only another five runs in 18 minutes before he edged a low catch to the wicketkeeper off Richie Muzhange. He hit 18 fours and one six in his innings, which was destined to be well over half the entire innings total.
After that the Mid-West Rhinos bowlers took over, working their way through the Mountaineers’ lower order with little difficulty. The only hold-up came when Tendai Chatara joined Silent Mujaji in a stand of 24 for the ninth wicket; the other batsmen had little to offer. Neville Madziva, who swung the second new ball effectively, took four wickets for 70 runs, while Simon Mugava (three wickets) and Graeme Cremer (two) found turn from the pitch and also bowled well. Particular credit is due to Mujaji, who went in night-watchman at number six and batted 93 minutes for a stubborn 15 not out. The total was 313 and the lead 50 – much smaller than Mountaineers would have wanted or expected.
Mid-West Rhinos showed great determination in wiping off the arrears and securing an advantage in the match. Vusi Sibanda, after a lean run, was very cautious, but Steve Marillier, after his first-innings fifty, batted with even greater confidence, playing his strokes handsomely and dominating the opening stand of 89. Mid-West Rhinos thus regained the lead without losing a wicket. However, on the verge of his second fifty, Marillier unaccountably had a lazy swish outside the off stump and was caught at the wickets off Donald Tiripano. He hit eight fours and a superb straight six.
Gary Ballance came in and was his usual solid self. Sibanda reached his fifty off 132 balls, hard graft, but now began to play more freely. The bowling was not particularly testing, certainly not of the same quality as Mid-West Rhinos’ had been before lunch, although they never fell apart, and the batsmen were able to play with increasing mastery. The score at the close was 212 for one, a very dominant total in a low-scoring season, with Sibanda on 98 and Ballance of 55. Unless there are more surprises in store on the final day, the main question is whether there is enough time for Mid-West Rhinos to build up enough runs for a good declaration and then bowl Mountaineers out in the afternoon.