Result: Mashonaland Eagles (220/8) beat Mid-West Rhinos (155) by 65 runs.
An hour after the start, with Mashonaland Eagles reeling on 34 for five, this match looked likely to be a brief, one-sided contest. It was indeed one-sided – but in favour of the side that had begun so badly. The difference was made by Elton Chigumbura, who scored a fine, disciplined rather than devastating century and totally turned the game around for his team. With Vusi Sibanda and Gary Ballance failing, the limited Mid-West Rhinos’ batting slithered weakly to defeat, giving the home side the Coca-Cola Pro50 trophy, which they deserved after dominating the league competition. Again Zimbabwe ’s three franchise cricketing tournaments have been won by three different winners during a season.
Mashonaland Eagles had home advantage for this final, as they had won six of their eight league matches against five by Mid-West Rhinos, and were four points ahead. Mid-West Rhinos won the toss, usually a great advantage on the Harare Sports Club ground which traditionally helps the seamers in the first hour, and predictably put the opposition in to bat.
They had more reason than usual to hope for assistance from the pitch early on, as there had been much rain during the week and another downpour overnight. There was some movement in the early overs, but for a while Edward Rainsford and Mike Chinouya suffered some frustration. Mashonaland Eagles took the positive step of sending in their two main attacking batsmen, Sikandar Raza and Cephas Zhuwao, to open the batting, rather than saving them for later when the pitch was easier. This seemed to be paying off as they put on 31 in eight overs, although both were beaten at times.
Then Raza (20) fatally shouldered arms to a ball from Rainsford that came back in and knocked out his off stump. This started what has this season been a typical collapse as in the course of three overs the score slumped to 34 for five, with the loss in quick succession of Forster Mutizwa (0), Zhuwao (11), Tino Mutombodzi (0) and Stuart Matsikenyeri (0). It looked like curtains for Mashonaland Eagles, unless something very special happened – and it did.
The rest of the innings revolved around Chigumbura. First he found a good partner in Regis Chakabva (20), who helped him add 58 to steady the innings. Nathan Waller hit an aggressive 26 off 24 balls, including two sixes in an over from Graeme Cremer, but when Raymond Price went for 4, the score was 129 for eight in the 32nd over.
Then came the partnership that was to turn the match. With only Tatenda Gumunyu-Manatsa, of negligible batting skill, to come, Innocent Chinyoka hung in and played a fine supporting innings. They were to add 91 in an unbroken partnership that took Mashonaland Eagles to an unexpected total of 220 for eight. Chinyoka provided solid support and a few very good strokes while Chigumbura took charge. He never totally dominated the match as he can do, but played with excellent shot selection and judgment, with very few false strokes. He hit just nine fours in what was actually his first century in 220 official (List A) one-day matches. His century came off 112 balls in the penultimate over of the innings, and he finished with 104 not out.
Apart from a few brief lapses, Mid-West Rhinos continued to bowl well to the end. Despite a poor and expensive start to his second spell, Rainsford finished with three for 35, while there were two wickets each for Chinouya and Richard Muzhange. There was some brilliant fielding at times, although a few lapses crept in towards the end of the innings.
Mashonaland Eagles quickly took charge when Mid-West Rhinos batted. Vusi Sibanda lifted a firm return catch to Gumunyu-Manatsa off the second ball he faced, while Steve Marillier hit a six over square leg and was then lbw playing across a ball from Chinyoka. Two wickets were down for six runs and it was clear that the destiny of this match in all probability depended on when Gary Ballance could, under this pressure, play yet another major innings in his very dominant season.
Very cautious, Ballance took 12 balls to get off the mark and continued to play with care. But, off his 18th ball and with only four runs to his account, he suddenly snapped, flashed at a wide ball outside the off stump from Chinyoka, and edged to the keeper. 19 for three and game over – or as good as. Unless a near-miracle were to occur, with all due respect to Malcolm Waller, Mid-West Rhinos do not have the depth in batting to recover from such a situation as this. They have no Chigumbura down the order to work wonders.
Knowing the match was lost, the rest of the top order had little fight to offer. Waller made 10 and Roly Benade showed some spirit to make 20. The Mashonaland juggernaut rolled on, halted temporarily by some good hitting from Cremer (47) and Rainsford (38) after seven wickets had fallen for 60 and Mashonaland Eagles knew they had the trophy in the bag. Chigumbura had the best figures of three for 27, although he bowled too many short balls. The match was over with almost eight overs to spare, and Mid-West Rhinos remain the only franchise which has yet to win a trophy.