There were a number of new, recalled and inexperienced players in the two teams.
Mashonaland Eagles were missing several stalwarts who have left. Mid-West Rhinos were at a serious disadvantage in that they were without Brendan Taylor (at a family wedding), and also Edward Rainsford and Richard Muzhange, neither of whom is available fulltime at present.
As so often happens, the side at a greater disadvantage won the toss, and Mid-West Rhinos were put in to bat, although in recent years that is not as difficult as it used to be at Harare Sports Club.
The home seamers did get some movement, but it was not excessive, and the visiting players themselves had to admit that their failures were due more to poor batting than anything else; they looked rusty after their long layoff and such has been the reputation of the ground for teams batting first in the past that some batsmen feel at a disadvantage psychologically.
Mid-West Rhinos never looked like making a sufficient total. Vusimuzi Sibanda made 14 without looking very convincing, and the next five in the order all failed to reach double figures. Sibanda was caught at the wicket fishing at a ball outside the off stump, while Malcolm Waller sliced a low catch to backward point for a single, and the side was heavily dependent on these two batsmen.
Six wickets were down for 37 in the 21st over before the later batsmen finally showed some fight. Nyasha Mayavo and Neville Madziwa started to turn things around before the former was superbly run out for 14 by Sikandar Raza Butt, and later Mkhululi Nyathi, on his debut, hit out boldly for 23 off 18 balls. Another debutant, Ronnie Chokununga, batting at three, had shown grim determination, but managed just eight runs off 47 balls. Madziwa played the best innings, finishing unbeaten with 33, as the innings closed for 118 runs in 43 overs – a scoring rate of below three an over.
Admire Manyumwa, strangely overlooked by Mashonaland Eagles for three years until now, was the best of the bowlers, showing great accuracy and some movement, and he took three wickets for 16 runs off eight overs. Most of the other bowlers returned good, if rather flattering, figures.
Mid-West Rhinos should have done better than they did, but their batting depth is alarmingly thin.
Chamunorwa Chibhabha and Keith Kondo, under no pressure to score quickly, made a steady start to the Mashonaland Eagles innings, putting on 35 together before Kondo (16) edged a ball from Bothwell Chapungu to slip.
Chibhabha was playing a strange innings, scoring only 11 runs off 56 balls before he finally began to open up. In fact, the whole team had managed only 63 for three after 28 overs when Regis Chakabva went without scoring after facing 12 balls, and at this point a light drizzle began.
Tinotenda Mutombodzi, the new captain, cracked his first ball for four, but skied a catch three balls later, and at 68 for four Mid-West Rhinos could consider the prospect of a surprise victory for the first time. Excitement grew as the debutant left-arm spinner, Kudakwashe Munyede, had Elton Chigumbura (1) caught at the wicket off the final ball of his ten overs, finishing with the remarkable figures of two for just 16 runs, having opened the bowling opposite Michael Chinouya.
Mashonaland Eagles were 75 for five after 31 overs, Chibhabha now on 34.
The new wicketkeeper, Joylord Gumbie, began positively, but on 98 Chibhabha finally fell for 43, a fourth catch behind the stumps for Mayavo.
This left the last four wickets to make another 20 runs – not the simplest of tasks for mostly inexperienced players. They took a positive approach and fortune favoured the bold: one more wicket was lost, but Gumbie saw his team through to victory by three wickets with an impressive innings of 25 not out.
For the losers, Chinouya bowled some good balls without luck, while, besides Munyede, Madziwa bowled his 10 overs for only 18 runs and a wicket; he had the best all-round match of any player.
Both teams know they will need to improve a lot, but the biggest worry must be the glaring lack of depth in the Mid-West Rhinos batting