from John Ward in Kwekwe
Day 1, Close of play: Mid-West Rhinos 247/8 v Matabeleland Tuskers.
MidWest Rhinos came out of a day of struggle with the bat quite well at Kwekwe Sports Club, thanks to two contrasting fifties.
Peter Moor, fresh from his century in the one-day match last Sunday, hit an aggressive 81, while Neville Madziva fought his way in determined fashion to an unbeaten 61 by the close.
Christopher Mpofu returned to the Matabeleland Tuskers side, but his inclusion did appear to be more hopeful than anything else, as he only bowled four overs at the start of the match. One end of the pitch had been more affected by the recent heavy rains than the other, which meant the bowlers were able to get more life and movement here, while the other end was rather lifeless. On this two-paced pitch, it could be interpreted as either a mistake or an optimistic decision when the MidWest Rhinos acting captain, Moor, decided to bat on winning the toss.
Two bits of sloppy fielding in the first over should have eased the pressure on the inexperienced MidWest Rhinos openers, but in only the second over Bothwell Chapungu (2) played across the line to a ball from Tawanda Mupariwa, got a leading edge and was caught off a skier at mid-off. Then in the fifth over Mpofu trapped Steve Trenchard leg before wicket (lbw) for 4, and MidWest Rhinos were reduced to 9 for two.
Moor now came in and played with great and perhaps a little too much confidence right from the start. He played some handsome drives, straight and on the off side, but his shot selection was not always good on the two-paced pitch. He had 14 when he got a leading edge just as Chapungu had and also should have been caught off a skier at mid-off, but had the good fortune to be batting at the other end where the fielder, quite blinded by the sun, was unable to get a hand on the ball as it fell.
Moor continued to go for his shots and enjoy considerable luck, several times slashing at balls that just evaded the slips in the air on their way to the boundary, and getting away with several other miscues. But he let nothing deter his aggressive approach.
The remaining opener, Ronnie Chokununga, displayed a very solid defence but little else, reaching 8 in the first hour of play. With Moor on the attack, though, his was a valuable supporting innings. Lunch came with the total 68 for two, Moor on 44 and Chokununga 18.
After lunch Moor ran to his fifty off 74 balls and the pair took the total to 101, before Moor called for a risky single into the covers and Chokununga was run out for 31 (106 balls). When John Nyumbu came on to bowl, Moor went after him with slog-sweeps and orthodox sweeps, but the wily off-spinner won the war, going round the wicket to tie Moor down and then trapped him lbw for 81. Moor’s fine, if fortunate, innings occupied 117 balls and he hit 10 fours and two sixes.
When the struggling Nyasha Mayavo slashed at a widish ball and was caught at the wicket without scoring, MidWest Rhinos were in trouble at 120 for five, especially as they have a notoriously weak tail. But Mark Mbofana and Neville Madziva stood firm and made a steady partnership, taking them to 146 for five at tea.
They took the score to 179 before Mbofana left for 31, and newcomer Bright Njanji scored 14 to help take the total past 200. Madziva went on to record his first fifty in first-class cricket off 136 balls, an innings full of determination. He finished the day unbeaten on 61. Carl Mumba went for 6, but Kudakwashe Munyede (10 not out) stayed with Madziva until the close, when the total was 247 for eight wickets. Tawanda Mupariwa bowled well at times without much luck, while Nyumbu bowled a long spell in the final session, took some stick at times but also took four wickets.
It is difficult to say which team, if either, has any advantage in this match at present, because it remains to be seen how the pitch will play over the rest of the match, and, however flat it may become, whether Matabeleland Tuskers, after their humbling by Mountaineers last week, can bat well on it.
Most of all the progress of this match will depend on which players have the most determination to succeed.