If they are not dancing in the streets of Masvingo, they should be!
For on 2 November 2012, at Harare Sports Club – the headquarters of Zimbabwe cricket – the Southern Rocks team finally pulled off its first-ever Logan Cup victory by the handsome margin of 141 runs, over the powerful Mashonaland Eagles.
Before this match, Southern Rocks had a dismal record in their previous 32 matches in the Logan Cup – lost 18, drawn 14 and won zero. Last season was the worst of all, when they lost seven of their eight matches and would also have lost the eighth but for rain. They looked a totally dispirited team, quite unable to offer a fight to their opponents. This season, unable to attract any big-name players to Masvingo, it looked like more of the same.
However, the arrival of Zimbabwe’s former batting star Dave Houghton as Southern Rocks coach changed all that. Since he stopped playing, Houghton has become a widely respected coach, including four years with the national side, and is also batting coach at Derbyshire in England. Two of his protégés there, batsman Ben Slater and all-rounder Peter Burgoyne, played significant roles in Southern Rocks’ historic win.
In the corresponding match of last season but in Masvingo, Southern Rocks had high hopes of a maiden victory when they set Mashonaland Eagles 339 to win – the highest total of the match. Unfortunately for Rocks, Forster Mutizwa chose that day to play what must surely have been one of the greatest innings ever played in Zimbabwean domestic cricket, scoring 164 not out and leading the team to victory. This was a devastating blow to the Southern Rocks’ morale: their spirit was crushed and they never troubled any of their opponents again that season.
Now Houghton has more than restored that morale. Discipline and self-belief are the keys to his methods, and this was evident in Rocks’ historic success in Harare.
It must be admitted that Southern Rocks enjoyed much of the good fortune that was going in this match, but it was overdue – apart from anything else, in the two one-day matches in Harare in October, they twice lost the toss and had to bat on pitches favouring the bowlers.
This time they won the toss and had the courage to bat first in what this time were excellent batting conditions. They had the best of the weather to bat in as well, against a bowling line-up without three of the Eagles’ top performers in Raymond Price, Kyle Jarvis and Elton Chigumbura. They had to resort to the unorthodox method of declaration and a forfeiture of an innings to get any chance of victory.
But they made the best possible use of their good luck. They have no stars in their batting line-up. In fact, their only star player – pace bowler Brian Vitori – was well short of his best form. But the entire batting line-up showed tremendous application and discipline as they ran up their record total of 459 for eight wickets before declaring. Slater with 91 and Burgoyne with a century on his first-class debut – the first half very dogged in support of his partner, the second appropriately aggressive – dug in and ground out the runs, while the sparkle was provided by Burgoyne’s partner, local player Richmond Mutumbami who hit a magnificent 141.
The team batted for most of the first two days, the only criticism being that the runs came too slowly. But this was justified, as after the disasters of last season the team needed to gain confidence in itself and stick to the basics of the game, getting their mental approach right before attempting to take risks. This was much the same approach as was used by Zimbabwe when they first played Test cricket, which was unjustly criticised in some quarters by those who did not understand.
The loss of most of the third day meant that a draw was certain if orthodox tactics were followed and only a first-innings point was up for grabs. But Houghton is used to this sort of situation in his experience of coaching in county cricket, and he used that with success while coaching Matabeleland Tuskers over the last two seasons. It involved a brief farcical period of bowling deliberate rubbish for 3.3 overs so that Mashonaland Eagles could score enough runs to leave them a target of 300, and then declare, which was followed by Southern Rocks forfeiting their second innings.
When I first saw that Mashonaland Eagles needed 301 to win in just under a full day, I thought this gave the home side the better chance of winning, given their strong (on paper) batting line-up, their natural self-confidence, even arrogance, against Rocks and the flatness of the pitch. But the Southern Rocks bowlers stuck to the basics of line and length, with their captain Tinashe Panyangara leading the way superbly, despite a suspect knee, and Mashonaland Eagles proceeded to self-destruct. The self-discipline and wise shot selection exhibited by Southern Rocks on the first two days seemed completely lost on the home side, who played one bad stroke after another and brought about their own destruction. They may well have been over-confident.
Last year many suggested that Southern Rocks were so poor that they dragged the whole competition down, and there was some truth in that. But those days are over. On paper, Southern Rocks cannot equal the depth and quality of talent enjoyed by other franchises, especially Mashonaland Eagles and Matabeleland Tuskers. But in any sport, spirit and discipline can often overcome sheer talent, and as long as Southern Rocks can display these, they will give any of the other teams a fight for their money.
Makorokoto, Southern Rocks, and may you continue to prosper! Never forget the attributes that brought you your first Logan Cup victory.