from John Ward at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
Close of play, Day 3: Southern Rocks (190 and 254) v Matabeleland Tuskers (166 and 135/3)
Although Richmond Mutumbami and John Nyumbu dominated the first session of play at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, neither had influence of the rest of the day, which produced some remarkable cricket and ended with the match wide open.
Matabeleland Tuskers are making a fine challenge to score an unlikely 279 for victory, and their talented 23-year-old left-handed opening batsman Nkosana Mpofu is in the forefront of the fight, with 60 runs to his credit and still there at the close of the third day.
Southern Rocks began the day on 153 for 5 in their second innings, a lead of 177, with Mutumbami on 73, partnered by Luke Jongwe, who had scored 8 off 90 balls so far. Jongwe was unrecognisable as the dour batsman of the previous evening, as from the start he looked to attack the bowling. This was not wise: he survived a stumping chance on 10, made some chancy strokes and then allowed a straight ball from Nyumbu, who had cunningly gone around the wicket, to hit his pads and dismiss him leg before wicket (lbw) for 16.
Mutumbami, approaching his century, had needed Jongwe to continue to stay there, and now he also saw Charles Kunje (0) and Trevor Garwe (9) take on Nyumbu with too little discretion, and lose their wickets. Tafadzwa Tsiga, at number 10, came in with Mutumbami on 89, and he did his job well, playing a sensible game and seeing Mutumbami through to his century. The landmark came just after morning drinks, off 178 balls, as he swept a ball from Keith Dabengwa fine for three.
When Steve Chimhamhiwa took the second new ball, he trapped Tsiga lbw for 12.
The last man was Cuthbert Musoko, sporting a first-class career batting average of over 30, thanks to his remarkable 62 against Mountaineers at Masvingo Sports Club at the start of the month and a number of not-out innings. and after a few balls of uncertainty he played with great composure and skill for a number 11. Matabeleland Tuskers could have been excused for feeling their victory hopes draining away as the pair added an invaluable 36 before Musoko was caught at the wicket for 18, just after slogging the bowler, Dabengwa, for six.
The total was 254, of which Mutumbami had scored 123 not out off 228 balls, with 12 fours in almost five hours. How much his team owed to him can be shown by the fact that the second-highest score of the innings was 23, by the opener Bernard Mlambo. Nyumbu, with six for 59, recorded the best first-class bowling figures of his career.
This left Matabeleland Tuskers with 279 to win, the highest total of the match, and considering the course of the game to date, the odds were stacked against them.
They did have the benefit of starting their innings with five penalty runs on the board before a ball had been bowled, the Southern Rocks batsmen having been penalised for persistently running on the danger area of the pitch.
The Southern Rocks bowlers and fielders were fired up and aggressive, at times too much so, as there were cheers when Trevor Garwe struck Nkosana Mpofu on the body with a short ball. But Mpofu and Bornaparte Mujuru stuck to their task and weathered the storm, and the decibel level of the fielders had returned to normal long before they posted the 50 together in the 17th over.
It could not be said that the bowling was poor, but perhaps the bowlers were a little too enthusiastic for their own good and did not consistently keep the ball in the best possible areas.
On 54 Mujuru (20) miscued a cut and was brilliantly caught at slip by Garwe off the bowling of Roy Kaia. Brian Chari came in and began positively, running to 14 off 13 balls at tea and including one of his now famous leg-side sixes, off Kunje. The score at the interval was 78 for one, with Mpofu still there on 38.
More sensible batting followed after tea, until the second wicket emulated the first in recording a fifty partnership. Then Jongwe produced a fine delivery that broke through Chari’s forward defence and bowled him for 30: 105 for two. He followed this up in his next over when Dabengwa sliced a catch to backward point, where it was juggled several times over a distance of several metres before being finally held by Musoko, who was immediately swamped by his ecstatic team-mates.
A cut backward of point for four brought Mpofu his fifty after facing 127 balls, a fine innings of determination and maturity. With Godwill Mamhiyo having joined him, two of Matabeleland Tuskers’ finest young prospects were at the crease together in a vital situation. Mamhiyo took quite a while to get started, but then began to play some nifty cuts and flicks. Mpofu meanwhile passed his previous highest first-class score of 57.
With a considerable amount of spin bowling taking place, the required 90 overs for the day were completed 10 minutes before the official finishing time, upon which the umpires took the strange decision to end play for the day at this point, with the score at 135 for three. Mpofu had 60 and Mamhiyo 13.
Matabeleland Tuskers are in the middle of a remarkable challenge, but are still just short of halfway to their target. With seven wickets in hand, the result could go either way and a thrilling finish is quite possible.