By John Ward at Harare Sports Club
Close of play, Day 2: Southern Rocks (164) v Mashonaland Eagles (505/4)
Mashonaland Eagles today gave a rare display this season of a local side whose leading batsmen were able and determined enough to knuckle down and compile long innings in the interests of their team.
True, it was done against a team with only one quality bowler in form among its number, but at least it was done – and done well – which has rarely been the case for a franchise team this season.
There were centuries from Sikandar Raza Butt and Regis Chakabva, but very high on the credits is the 16-year-old Nick Welch. He no doubt owed much to the 35-year-old Mark Vermeulen in their second-wicket partnership of 161, but it still says much of his potential and his maturity for his years that, when the current fashion among Zimbabwean franchise teams is to settle for twenties and thirties, he put his head down and worked hard towards what would have been the first-ever first-class century by a batsman of his young age in Zimbabwean cricket.
He was 45 overnight, while Vermeulen had 57. He reached his fifty off 78 balls and then continued to accumulate the runs in mature fashion. Most of his runs today came from drives, as the bowlers kept the ball well pitched up, giving him little opportunity to play the pull as he did yesterday. Vermeulen made a slow start, scoring just six runs in the first half-hour. The bowling for the most part was innocuous, apart from Tinashe Panyangara, and the batsmen were content to play him safely, pick up their runs from the other end and see him off. Trevor Garwe was well short of his best bowling form – a great handicap to his beleaguered team.
The stand finally ended when a furious Vermeulen was adjudged leg before wicket to Tafadzwa Kamungozi for 81, scored off 140 balls with nine fours and a six. Four runs later, the batsmen overtook the Southern Rocks’ first-innings total, but the old adage that the breaking of a large partnership often results in the additional wicket of the remaining batsman proved true in this case, as Welch, late on his stroke, was bowled by Jongwe for 83. This took him 136 balls and included 9 fours and a six.
Welch clearly had his eye on a century, which would have made him the youngest to achieve the feat in Zimbabwean first-class cricket, the record set by Friday Kasteni at 17 years and 11 days.
A larger stand followed, as Sikandar Raza Butt and Regis Chakabva were to add 235 together. They batted throughout the afternoon session, taking the score from 201 for three at lunch to 342 for three at tea, when Raza had 96 and Chakabva 74. Chakabva scored the faster at first, winning the race (if there was one) to 50, although he took most of the bowling, facing 92 balls for his fifty against 84 by Raza for his.
The second new ball was taken with the score on exactly 300, with both batsmen in the sixties. This slowed the scoring for a while, as Panyangara was as persistent as ever and Garwe showed at least some improvement, but it did not provide the breakthrough. Raza was now scoring the faster, leaving Chakabva behind, and he reached his second career century off 140 balls when his partner had 76.
Chakabva eventually reached his seventh century off 170 balls and then was caught at the wicket off Roy Kaia, going for a big hit. Mashonaland Eagles were now 408 for four.
With two full days left and significant rain highly unlikely, why declare when the batsmen are applying themselves so admirably for a change?
Raza was in no mood to give it away, and he went on to exceed his previous best score of 145 and to his 150. It was not full of the dazzling strokes he often plays, especially in the one-day game, but it was sound and positive, showing great determination. Only after 150 did he really go for his strokes and take the bowling to pieces, doubtless aiming to reach 200 before the close. With five fielders on the boundary, he just fell short, going in on 199 and hoping his captain would delay the declaration tomorrow morning.
His partner, Elton Chigumbura, played a slow strange innings, supporting Raza but scoring only 28 not out off 73 balls when his side were in an overwhelming position.
Apart from the bowling of Panyangara, all that can be said in favour of Southern Rocks is that they did keep at their job without drooping and actually completed 99 overs in the day.
Otherwise, sadly, they gave fuel to the argument that Zimbabwe cricket at present is not strong enough to support five franchise teams.