from John Ward at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
Close of play, Day 4: Southern Rocks (190 and 254) lost to Matabeleland Tuskers (166 and 279/9) by one wicket.
Despite the magnificent performances of John Nyumbu with the ball and Richmond Mutumbami with the bat, it was the 23-year-old Nkosana Mpofu, born in Masvingo but playing for Matabeleland Tuskers, who had the last word in this match at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.
There have been some great innings played in the Logan Cup this season, despite much mediocrity, but this was surely the greatest of them all.
With help at the last ditch from the Matabeleland Tuskers number 11 Steve Chimhamhiwa, Mpofu took Matabeleland Tuskers to a stunning victory by one wicket – the last pair having added 35.
In the morning session, just 53 runs were scored for two wickets, but the tension was high throughout. Matabeleland Tuskers began on 135 for three wickets, with Mpofu on 60 and Godwill Mamhiyo 13. The Southern Rocks bowling was tidy but not really threatening. The batsmen were very cautious at first, but then Mpofu began to get moving. Mamhiyo, however, took 35 minutes to score another run, and had just added four in an hour before he miscued a drive to backward point off Luke Jongwe: 154 for four.
Tawanda Mupariwa tried to get the score moving, hitting two boundaries, but then chopped a ball from Jongwe on to his stumps, to depart for 9: 170 for five. His brother Tonny came in next and survived until lunch, when the score was 188 for five.
Southern Rocks suffered great frustration after the interval: first they missed running out Mupariwa at 4, and then Mpofu, on 94, made his first real mistake, dabbling at a ball from Garwe – with the second new ball – outside the off-stump and being dropped by the wicketkeeper diving in front of first slip. There was some consolation at last when Mupariwa (7) flashed at a ball from Cuthbert Musoko and was well held by Garwe at first slip: 194 for six.
Mpofu went to 99 with a magnificent straight drive for four off Musoko, one of his favourite strokes, and then in the next over drove the same bowler neatly through the covers for two to reach his maiden first-class century. But his team still had another 73 runs needed to win and the tail is notoriously unreliable. For a while Nyumbu provided sound support, but then he became too ambitious and holed out at mid-on off Ian Kaia: 219/7.
Thabo Mboyi then played a part, scoring 13 of a partnership of 29 and taking the score to 243. But then the game took a huge step in favour of Southern Rocks, as Mboyi and Kevin Kandala fell in the same over from Prince Masvaure, who had been bowling tightly without reward before now.
In came the last man Steve Chimhamhiwa, not a negligible batsman. The last pair required another 35 runs to win and the greater burden of responsibility resting on Mpofu, who now had 120.
Three runs had been added when Chimhamhiwa gave a difficult chance at the wicket, which was not held. Mpofu, still inexperienced, struggled to keep the strike, but he did not lose his head as he looked to increase his scoring without taking risks. A poor over from Masvaure cost 13 runs, leaving 16 more to win. Jongwe replaced Masvaure, only for Chimhamhiwa to hit him twice backward of point for four, and then, facing Roy Kaia, drove him almost straight for four to level the scores.
Mpofu faced the next over from Jongwe, and uncharacteristically flirted with the first ball, which he could easily have edged to the keeper. After that he played safe and the over was a maiden. A nudge past slip off the fourth ball by Chimhamhiwa took Matabeleland Tuskers through to the narrowest of victories in one of the most thrilling of matches. His contribution was totally invaluable, his unbeaten 21 being his highest first-class score.
Spare a thought for Southern Rocks, the struggling team which did so well to lead for most of this match, and then had victory taken from them by one of the greatest of innings at the last ditch.
They did not deserve to lose, but ultimately a couple of difficult fielding errors cost them the match.