The Logan Cup competition is at its halfway stage, with all five teams having played each of the others once, and Matabeleland Tuskers are clear at the top of the table, having beaten each of the other franchises.
Remarkably, all 10 matches played so far have come to a definite result, but that will doubtless change in the New Year when the rains encroach on the programme. This will make it more difficult for any of the other teams to catch the runaway leaders.
The points table reads as follows, each team having played four matches: Matabeleland Tuskers 27, Mid-West Rhinos 14, Mountaineers 14, Southern Rocks 14, Mashonaland Eagles 1.
With six points on offer for an outright victory and one point for a first-innings lead, it will be seen that Matabeleland Tuskers have dropped only one point, when they fell behind Mashonaland Eagles on first innings, only to recover so well that they won the match by over 300 runs.
Three teams are in mid-table with two victories and two defeats each.
However, there is a disturbing element about much of the cricket, which became glaringly obvious in the match at Masvingo, where Southern Rocks (164 and 58) beat Mountaineers (159 and 26) by 37 runs. Exciting it certainly was, and a second victory for the home side, but look at those scores!
What sort of outrageous pitch did they have at Masvingo Sports Club?
Actually, the pitch gave very little help to the bowlers. The batting on both sides was abysmal. The Southern Rocks coach Dave Houghton said he could not remember when he last saw two sides both bat so badly. The bowlers did their job well, plugging away with a good line and length, even if there was little swing or seam movement, and waited for the obliging batsmen to throw their wickets away, which they did in great haste.
The Mountaineers coach Gary Brent was also appalled by the inexcusably bad batting. On a pretty blameless pitch, his team was set 64 to win and could not even manage half of it!
It seems that, all too often, if the pitch is anything other than a featherbed or if the team gets a bad start, the batsmen are afflicted by a type of mental paralysis. The motto seems to be “If in doubt, collapse.”
The batsmen become strokeless wonders, too scared to attempt a scoring shot, allowing the bowlers to bowl just as they please and eventually losing their wickets weakly. A few bold slogs would at least bring a few more runs and avoid totals of 26, but the art of staying positive and looking to work the ball around the field and rotating the strike with singles seems quite unknown to most of our batsmen.
An additional problem is that this sort of batting is also bad for the bowling. A bowler has no incentive to improve if all he has to do is turn his arm over with reasonable accuracy and watch the batsmen blocking him out before committing suicide.
Bowlers need to be challenged to improve their game. At present, it is the batsmen who are challenged, and most of them right now show little sign of improving their game. But we do not want a return to the featherbed pitches of two years ago, where team totals of 400 or more were commonplace and the batsmen had everything their own way against bowlers rendered helpless by the conditions. The balance should be very even between bat and ball on most of this season’s pitches, so the batsmen need to get their act together.
The same scenario seemed likely to take place at Kwekwe Sports Club, where Mid-West Rhinos chose to bat and then slumped miserably to 65 all out – much as they did the previous week at Mutare Sports Club – on a pitch giving a little help to the bowlers, but never enough to excuse a score like that. Matabeleland Tuskers also batted rather poorly and should have made many more than 216. When Mid-West Rhinos lost three for 31 in their second innings, a two-day finish looked possible.
Fortunately, Brendan Taylor and Malcolm Waller refused to join the recession and both scored superb centuries, with quite some help from Simon Mugava.
Matabeleland Tuskers were set 341 to win, and their chances looked hopeless at four for three wickets. But they also had heroes. Terrence Duffin and Sean Ervine started the fightback, while Sean Williams and Charles Coventry both scored centuries and shared a partnership of 186 to bring a remarkable victory.
It was disappointing to see the lack of celebration when Williams was finally dismissed 50 runs short of victory, with four wickets left – clearly Mid-West Rhinos had by now given the match up for lost.
But these few batsmen have now shown their timid colleagues just what can and should be done.
Wild extremes in scoring have also been more common in Test cricket recently – consider the recent Third Test match between Australia and South Africa, and a year ago Australia 47 all out against the same opponents, after being 21 for nine. I don’t think it is coincidence that this is happening while the twenty20 game is taking a stronger hold on the cricket world.
Cricketers nowadays have to play three very different forms of the game, each requiring very different skills and tactics, and it is not surprising that they at times feel schizophrenic and unable to cope, especially the batsmen. Zimbabwe’s batsmen in particular have been struggling in the Logan Cup this season, and if we are to compete in Test cricket, this area needs serious attention.
From now until mid-January, Zimbabwe domestic cricket reverts to one-day franchise cricket, with a 50-over match followed by a T20.