from John Ward in Masvingo
Southern Rocks (196 and 361) lost to Mashonaland Eagles (336 and 222/2) by eight wickets.
In less than an hour after lunch, Mashonaland Eagles cruised to a stress-free victory over Southern Rocks by eight wickets.
The 34-year-old Mark Vermeulen was the main performer, as he scored a confident unbeaten century to complete the job. On a placid pitch the weak home attack were quite unable to trouble their visitors.
Mashonaland Eagles began the day on 57 for one wicket, with Keith Kondo on 14 and the aggressive Mark Vermeulen 29. The weather this time was cloudy and there was some very light rain – not enough to stop play. Vermeulen settled in, less aggressive than on the previous evening, while Kondo took 35 minutes to add to his score.
The ball was slippery and there was a controversial incident when Trevor Garwe bowled two beamers at Vermeulen, the second of which hit him a painful blow on the hand. There was a suggestion that the bowler had done it deliberately; umpire Owen Chirombe ordered his removal from the attack for the rest of the innings, as laid out in the laws of the game, and so Southern Rocks lost the services of their most dangerous bowler.
Vermeulen reached 50 off 68 balls, and soon after this lost Kondo, who was yorked by Tanyaradzwa Munyaradzi for 32. The score was now 110 for two. The Mashonaland Eagles captain, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, came in next himself and with Vermeulen took the score to 170 for two at lunch. Vermeulen then had 84.
After the break, Mashonaland Eagles cruised to victory with ease against a bowling that was persistent but mostly innocuous. Vermeulen reached his 15th career century off 145 balls, while Mutombodzi brought up his 50 – after a narrow miss in the first innings – off 61. The captain finished the match with a boundary, finishing unbeaten on 57, while Vermeulen had 102, with 10 fours and a six.
Mashonaland Eagles, in the first innings at least, had proved fragile in their top-order batting, but centuries from Simbarashe Gupo and Nathan Waller in the lower order gave them an advantage they never lost, and also the confidence that they can bat in depth. The eight wickets of Tafadzwa Muzarawetu in the first innings gave notice that their pace attack had been considerably strengthened, and is perhaps the best in the country right now with the national players unavailable.
Southern Rocks could encourage themselves with the good fightback in their second innings, and also the return of Garwe to his best form, perhaps his best ever, in the first innings. He was less effective later in the match, though, and the weakness of the rest of the bowling must give cause to concern.
Southern Rocks stay at home next week to they play Mountaineers, who have just recorded an innings victory over the seriously weakened champions, Matabeleland Tuskers.
Mashonaland Eagles have a bye before they travel to Bulawayo to play Matabeleland Tuskers, whom they will now face with greater confidence than they have generally done over the last few years.