Matches on Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 October:
Mutare: Mountaineers v Mashonaland Eagles
It was a disastrous weekend for Mid-West Rhinos who visited Bulawayo to play Matabeleland Tuskers.
They lost their winning record in the Pro50 competition and, most humiliating of all, were put out for 81 when they only needed 97 to win their twenty20 match. This puts Rhinos at the bottom of the T20 table on run-rate.
Mountaineers, as expected, were too good for Southern Rocks in both matches in Mutare, but at least Southern Rocks – under their new coach Dave Houghton – are showing some fighting spirit and are no longer pushovers.
Although no longer undefeated in the tournament, Rhinos remain at the top of the Pro50 table, but either Mashonaland Eagles or Mountaineers will be close on their tail after their midweek battles in Mutare – the matches which were postponed after the sudden death of the Eagles coach Kevin Curran. The T20 at the moment is a two-horse race, with Eagles and Mountaineers having both won all three matches to date, while the other franchises have one victory each.
The table standings at present are as follows, with the number of matches played given in brackets:
Pro50: Mid-West Rhinos 14 (4), Matabeleland Tuskers 9 (4), Mashonaland Eagles 9 (3), Mountaineers 8 (3), Southern Rocks 0 (4).
T20: Mashonaland Eagles 14 (3), Mountaineers 13 (3), Southern Rocks, Matabeleland Tuskers and Mid-West Rhinos all 4 (4).
It will indeed be a battle of the giants in Mutare this Wednesday and Thursday, as Eagles and Mountaineers battle for supremacy. Both are powerful teams, and if either has a weakness it may be the home team’s middle order. Their top order, led by Hamilton Masakadza and Tinotenda Mawoyo, has been in superb form, but if they fail the middle order can be fragile. Mawoyo scored 194 runs without being dismissed at the weekend. Hamilton Masakadza has recent scores of 84 and 103 behind him, while Kasuza has scored 83 and 85. Gregory Lamb also scored a dashing 50 on Sunday, so probably the deciding factor in this match will be whether the Eagles bowlers can break through this top order cheaply.
Eagles have fewer real stars but more depth. Everybody in the Eagles team is producing useful performances, but their highest individual score so far this season has been 67 by Stuart Matsikenyeri and no bowler has taken more than three wickets in a match.
There are two enthralling matches in prospect in Mutare and it is impossible to pick a winner with any certainty. But whoever does win will receive a tremendous boost for the season and have great reason to celebrate.