By John Ward at Harare Sports Club
Close of play, Day 3: Southern Rocks (164 and 228/7) v Mashonaland Eagles (507/5 dec).
The best thing that can be said about Southern Rocks is that they did not roll over and die when faced with an impossible task in their second innings against Mashonaland Eagles.
Roy Kaia was the leading figure in the struggle, and he is still there with 65 not out when the teams return to complete the formalities of a Mashonaland Eagles victory on the fourth day.
With Sikandar Raza Butt unbeaten on 199 overnight, Mashonaland Eagles continued their innings to enable him to reach the landmark. Trevor Garwe opened the bowling; the fourth ball saw Raza take the single that brought him his double century, while the fifth ball knocked Elton Chigumbura’s off stump out of the ground, after an innings of 30. This brought about the declaration at 507 for five, a lead of 343.
The only real question now was whether Southern Rocks could survive the day, and on their performance so far in this match it seemed unlikely.
Sikandar Raza’s 200 came off 226 balls and contained 18 fours and four sixes, in just over six hours at the crease. He was not to enjoy a rest; his ‘reward’ was to take over as stand-in wicketkeeper, as Regis Chakabva suffered from quite severe back pains.
All the Southern Rocks bowlers had suffered prolonged punishment, the only one to hold his head up high being the noble Tinashe Panyangara, who bowled 23 overs for one wicket and only 45 runs among the carnage.
Southern Rocks began their second innings with five penalty runs, imposed by the umpires when Mashonaland Eagles batsmen persistently ran down the pitch during their innings.
Innocent Kaia forsook his free-flowing, if inconsistent, game for solid defence, but it did him no good, as Brian Vitori trapped him leg before wicket (lbw) for one off 15 balls. Tendai Maruma seemed similarly bereft of strokes, and his reward was to be yorked by Vitori for two. Southern Rocks were now 13 for two, of which 10 were extras.
As has so often happened during the past two or three years, Richmond Mutumbami led a fightback, backed by the more defensive Kudzai Maunze. They added 57 together and were looking solid until, on the stroke of lunch, Maunze launched a fierce square cut that was superbly caught low down at backward point by Clement Rizhibowa. He was out for 17 off 51 balls and the lunch score was 71 for three, with Mutumbami on 32.
Mutumbami went to 40 and was then removed lbw to Chigumbura, reducing Southern Rocks to 85 for four. Like Panyangara with the bowling, Mutumbami is the heart and soul of the Southern Rocks batting, and although there is talent among the rest of the players, none of the others are able yet to put together their best performances with any consistency. After this poor team performance in Harare, it seems more likely than ever that Southern Rocks’ doom will be sealed and they will cease to exist as a first-class franchise next season.
Tendai Chisoro (6) soon had his off stump knocked out of the ground by Taurai Muzarabani, making the score 92 for five. But, after a painful start, Luke Jongwe began to fight back, helped by a dogged Roy Kaia. They added 58 runs together before Jongwe was bowled by Vitori.
At tea, Southern Rocks were still there at 158 for six, with Kaia on 23 and Garwe four.
Afterwards there was perhaps the most comfortable-looking batting of the day as these two batsmen developed a sound partnership, rarely looking in trouble. Kaia was the more aggressive, reaching his fifty off 87 balls, and the partnership realized 53 before Garwe was adjudged lbw to a ball from Utseya for 16.
The new batsman, Panyangara, was also obdurate, putting as much heart into his batting as his bowling.
Kaia at 62 had an escape when he swept a ball from Tinotenda Mutombodzi straight into the short-leg fielder, from whom it rebounded into the air for slip to complete the “catch”, but since it had hit the fielder’s helmet it was correctly ruled not out.
Shortly afterwards, the light won the day, with nine overs left unbowled, and the players will have to return for an unexpected fourth day, with Southern Rocks still 115 runs short of avoiding an innings defeat with three wickets left.
Vitori has taken four of the wickets, but has not bowled consistently well, sending down some excellent deliveries, some of which took wickets, but he was also much too keen on the bouncer and far from accurate.