from John Ward in Mutare
Close of play, Day 4: Mountaineers (259 and 246/8 dec) beat MidWest Rhinos (236 and 173) by 96 runs.
After three days of grim cricket, the match at Mutare Sports Club finally came to life on the final day.
Both sides now showed a commendable desire to win, but the advantage was with the home side which bowled out its opponents after tea to win by 96 runs and go to the top of the Logan Cup table. Their chief performer was Donald Tiripano, who led the bowling attack, found some effective reverse swing and finished with a well-deserved five wickets for 44 runs, as well as breaking a vital stand with a brilliant run-out.
Mountaineers resumed on their overnight score of 219 for six, with Mark Pettini on 65 and Tiripano on 2. It was obvious from the start that they were after quick runs. Tiripano was bowled by the first ball he faced, from Neville Madziva, and in the next over from Mark Mbofana, a slash from Pettini was caught at second slip. He made 66 off 176 balls, with only four fours.
Tapiwa Mufudza and Prosper Tsvanhu still went after the runs, both being on 13 when the declaration came after half an hour, on 246 for eight. This set Mountaineers a target of 270 runs to win off a minimum of 89 overs – not an easy task on a pitch now taking spin and uneven bounce. Richard Muzhange and Bright Njanji had both taken two wickets in the Mountaineers second innings.
MidWest Rhinos took the positive approach – to go for victory as long as it was reasonably possible. Mountaineers celebrated when Tiripano trapped Bothwell Chapungu leg before wicket (lbw) with the first ball of the innings, but that did not deter the visitors.
Ronnie Chokununga, better known for grim defensive innings at the top of the order, scored 10 off the second over, bowled by Tatenda Mupungu, mostly with handsome front-foot drives. After five overs he had scored 22 off 14 balls out of 26, but when Wellington Masakadza came on to bowl his spin he struggled, and was quickly trapped lbw padding up, for his 22. Masakadza removed Steve Trenchard (5), stumped, in his next over, and in this the ninth over of the innings MidWest Rhinos were 32 for three.
As long as Peter Moor was there, victory was possible, and he attacked in brilliant style, at one stage scoring 4, 6 and 6 off successive deliveries from Masakadza. He lost Nyasha Mayavo for 10, brilliantly caught by Kevin Kasuza at short extra cover off Tsvanhu for 10: 86 for four. Moor now became more defensive, but still reached his fifty off 58 balls.
Mbofana had a life, dropped at short extra cover off Tapiwa Mufudza on 5. Then, in the last over before lunch, Moor attempted to drive a ball from Mufudza for six, only to be caught at long on for 57. He faced 73 balls and hit seven fours and two sixes.
After lunch the light worsened, thunder rumbled around the Mutare hills and Mountaineers had to keep to their spinners for a while. Mbofana and Madziva, however, stood firm and refused to be shifted even when conditions improved enough for the faster bowlers return. They played sensible cricket, showing solid defence but without making the mistake of shutting up shop so completely that the bowlers could get on top.
They took opportunities of scoring when they had the chance, and had added 52 together in 101 minutes before, when attempting a quick single, Tiripano superbly threw down the stumps. Unfortunately, Madziva was accidentally obstructed by the bowler backing up and so was narrowly run out. He had scored 34 off 91 balls. Tiripano then trapped Njanji lbw for 2, and tea quickly followed at 157 for seven.
Afterwards Mbofana, with only three tail-enders to follow, showed more aggression, but then Tiripano bowled Kudakwashe Munyede and Richard Muzhange with successive balls, to take the score to 169 for nine. The last man, Michael Chinouya, survived the over, but lost his middle stump to Tiripano in the following over to end the match. Mbofana was left unbeaten with 40, having played a fine rear-guard action for almost three hours.
Mountaineers celebrated their triumph with joy and thoroughly deserve their elevation to the head of the Logan Cup table. On the other hand, their two overseas professionals, Pettini and Dan Housego, now have to return to England to prepare for the county season there, which will leave a massive hole in their batting line-up.
It will be a hard test for the team to hold on to their position until their five national players return from the International Cricket Council World Twenty20 tournament.