from John Ward in Kwekwe
Close of play, Day 3: Mid-West Rhinos (265 and 171) v Matabeleland Tuskers (202 and 87/3).
This match at Kwekwe Sports Club could be heading for an exciting finish, as MidWest Rhinos wasted their chance of building an unassailable lead with a disappointing batting display and left Matabeleland Tuskers to score 235 to win.
It is not an easy task on this pitch, but it is possible, and if they get there successfully on Friday they will owe much to the excellent bowling of John Nyumbu, whose five wickets did much to lure the home batsmen to their doom.
It looked like the third day might become a war of attrition as MidWest Rhinos started their second innings on 3 for one wicket, after gaining a first-innings lead of 63. The pitch was still two-paced, but getting a little slower and lower, not easy for batting on. The overnight pair of Ronnie Chokununga and Steve Trenchard made a cautious start, but kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Trenchard did most of the scoring, but at 22 he skied a big hit off Tawanda Mupariwa to mid-off and departed for 22, the score now being 35 for two. Chokununga again played solidly, but when he had scored 13 off 56 balls he was trapped leg before wicket (lbw) by John Nyumbu: 42 for three.
Then followed three successive partnerships that could have given MidWest Rhinos an unassailable advantage, but each one was broken at a critical time. Peter Moor, batting with more care than in the first innings, was joined by Nyasha Mayavo, and they put on 37 before Mayavo got tangled up and trapped lbw by Keith Dabengwa for 21.
Mark Mbofana came in just before lunch and after the interval hit an aggressive 26 off 33 balls before Dabengwa picked up a good low return catch to make the score 117 for five, after a stand of 38. Neville Madziva now joined Moor, with Nyumbu and Dabengwa bowling in partnership, and this pair put on 29. But Moor, having built up his innings so well, could not resist taking on Nyumbu, and as in the first innings the wily off-spinner won the battle in the end, taking a good low return catch to dismiss the Mid-West Rhinos captain for 41, the score now being 146 for six.
Attack rather than discretion seemed to be the policy of the home team, and their tail failed to knuckle down. Madziva (20) obligingly hit a ball from Nyumbu down the throat of long on and the last five wickets fell for just 25 runs. Seven batsmen reached double figures, but six of them went between 12 and 26, and Moor as top scorer only made 41. In mitigation it must be said that this is a very inexperienced team. Nyumbu, tossing the ball up, teasing the batsmen and getting just enough spin, took five wickets for 58, giving him nine in the match, and Dabengwa three for 31.
Matabeleland Tuskers needed 235 to win, and this was now the most crucial stage of the match. They were determined not to throw their wickets away wantonly as their opponents had done and the scoring rate was about two an over. Bornaparte Mujuru and Nkosana Mpofu put on 16 in eight overs before the former (7) fended a ball from Michael Chinouya into the gully.
Brian Chari came in and he too batted with great caution. Mpofu gradually began to open out and play his shots, but inexperience got the better of him in the end, as he swung across the line at a ball from Kudakwashe Munyede, the left-arm spinner, and was comprehensively bowled for 35: 62 for two.
The vital wicket of Chari (23) fell just before the close, and this may well prove to be the turning point of the match, as he and the experienced Dabengwa were the greatest threats to the home side. He was given out caught at the wicket for 23, off a leg-break from Bright Njanji – a decision he appeared not to like.
Christopher Mpofu, who complained of a sore back and only bowled four overs in the match, came in as an unlikely night-watchman. He survived, and Dabengwa, now the key figure for Matabeleland Tuskers, is 11 not out.
Matabeleland Tuskers, at 87 for three, need another 148 runs with seven wickets left and are still in the match, although taking all things into account MidWest Rhinos are the more likely victors.