Result: Southern Rocks (151/9) lost to Mashonaland Eagles (152/5) by five wickets.
The first franchise match of the new season at Harare Sports Club saw many players rather rusty still, but three fine individual performances lit up the day.
Two of them were by Southern Rocks – yet they lost the match. Tendai Chisoro’s superb unbeaten 73 saved the Southern Rocks innings from disaster, and then Tinashe Panyangara’s pace bowling shattered the top of the Mashonaland Eagles innings. But it was the third performance, a sound 57 not out by Forster Mutizwa – a regular scourge of Southern Rocks – that turned the match and took the home team to victory with time to spare.
As so often in cricket, God appears to favour the big battalions, and thus Mashonaland Eagles were successful in a good toss to win and were able to put Southern Rocks in to bat. The Eagles are temporary without Kyle Jarvis, while Rocks were missing both their frontline spinners, Tafadzwa Kamungozi and Hilary Matanga.
Southern Rocks struggled from the start, with the pitch early on – as it often does at Harare Sports Club – giving movement to the seamers, although playing quite slowly. The Eagles’ pacemen at the start of the new season had problems finding their line at times, but Rocks do not have a strong top order and the batsmen were unable to take advantage when they had a chance. There was a steady fall of wickets, and when drinks were taken after 15 overs, the total was only 28 for three.
Standing out like a beacon among his teammates was Chisoro, a player who has yet to show his great talent consistently at franchise level. The conditions had admittedly eased by the time he came in at number seven, but he played the right game, playing himself in sensibly to start with, while still showing positive intent, and then steadily taking control of the bowling. With little support except from Trevor Garwe (15), he reached his fifty off 68 balls and finished with 73 not out off 85; his 10 teammates could manage only 57 from the bat between them.
Twenty runs off the last two overs took the total to 151 for nine. Only nine boundaries were hit in the innings, six of them by Chisoro. There were two wickets each for Tatenda Gumunyu-Manatsa, Nathan Waller, Elton Chigumbura and Raymond Price, but none was able to tame Chisoro or end his heroic innings.
Shaky they may have been with the bat, but for the most part, Southern Rocks appeared to be inspired at first when they took the ball. The newly appointed captain, Panyangara, led from the front and in his first two overs he blew away Regis Chakabva (0), former Rocks batsman Chamunorwa Chibhabha (1) and Stuart Matsikenyeri (0), reducing Eagles to 16 for three. If they had been taking their target lightly, they could do so no more.
But Panyangara had shot his bolt, and his next overs were much less effective. Sikandar Raza and Mutizwa dug in to steady the innings, although Rocks missed a great opportunity when, with the total on 65, Roy Kaia – perhaps with the sun in his eyes – dropped Mutizwa at deep midwicket. They could not break the stand until at 97 Sikandar (43) chopped a ball from Panyangara, in his second spell, on to his stumps.
Chigumbura made 16 and, with the tail now starting, much depended on Mutizwa. While Tinotenda Mutombodzi kept his end up, Mutizwa went to his fifty off 88 balls, and kept picking up the runs until the target was reached with the minimum of fuss. Mutizwa finished unbeaten on 57 and so well had Mashonaland Eagles paced their innings that there were 13 overs to spare. Brian Vitori was not at his best in this match, but Panyangara finished with four for 26.