By John Ward
Result of the Pro50 match: Matabeleland Tuskers (202/8) beat Mashonaland Eagles (194) by eight runs.
It was a consolation victory for Matabeleland Tuskers, although taking them off the bottom of the Pro50 log, but a disaster for Mashonaland Eagles, winners of the tournament for the last two years.
Victory would have seen them host the final again, playing Mountaineers who have won against Mid-West Rhinos in Kwekwe. Defeat means they stay behind Southern Rocks, who will face Mountaineers in the final in Mutare next Wednesday.
Both Mashonaland Eagles and Matabeleland Tuskers have had inconsistent seasons, and both came into this match with little real confidence, especially Matabeleland Tuskers, who have suffered two successive disastrous Logan Cup routs, mainly through dismal batting.
On Tuesday, however, they scraped together a total of 202 for eight wickets, with Brian Chari and Godwill Mamhiyo the leading figures, and this proved too much for the fragile Mashonaland Eagles batting, despite a fighting innings from Sikandar Raza Butt.
Matabeleland Tuskers were seriously handicapped by the loss of Sean Williams, unfit to play due to a shoulder injury, while Keith Dabengwa was also missing as he has departed to fulfil a club contract in England.
Given their recent batting disasters, even with Williams scoring most of their runs, they took a brave decision to bat first, but the once notorious Harare Sports Club pitch was quite placid for them.
They were, however, understandably cautious at the start of their innings, but perhaps the knowledge that Williams was not there to dig them out of any holes they might get themselves into helped to force them to rise to the occasion. Chari made most of the early running, scoring 45 out of 68 off 60 balls, while his partners Tonny Mupariwa (6) and Brian Sibanda (15) concentrated on holding their ends up.
Unfortunately, Chari ran himself out, at 68 for two in the 21st over, but then Mamhiyo, entrusted with the captaincy, took over and played his most impressive innings for quite a long time. He used his feet well and played strokes all round the wicket, although he did get away with a few risks. Tawanda Mupariwa (17) and Dalu Mboyi (20 not out) supported him in valuable partnerships, and the team just managed to top 200.
Mamhiyo, caught in the deep off the final ball of the innings, finished with 65 off 87 balls. The Mashonaland Eagles seamers tended to be rather expensive, and the best bowling was done by the spinners: Brighton Mugochi, who took one for 25 off his 10 overs, and the debutant off-spinner Ronald Timoni with two for 32 off seven, including a fine return catch which he caught off the rebound.
The diminutive Joylord Gumbie opened the Mashonaland Eagles scoring with a six, hitting the fourth ball from Mupariwa over the long-off boundary with a fine stroke. Chamunorwa Chibhabha was also in confident form and runs came at a good rate.
Twenty-one came off the first three overs, and then Gumbie, trying to turn a ball to leg, was caught at first slip for eight. After a wide from the bowler, Steve Chimhamhiwa, Nick Welch groped unwisely at a ball outside the off stump and edged to the keeper: 22 for two, and the positive start was a mere memory.
Then the batsmen fought back, with Sikandar Raza and Chibhabha taking 11 off an over from Chimhamhiwa. They also ran well between wickets, and put on 48 in 12 overs before Chibhabha (36), trying to pull, skied an easy catch to mid-on, leaving the score 70 for three.
Chakabva scored a brisk 17 without looking really comfortable before skying a similarly simple catch into the covers, and when Tinotenda Mutombodzi (14) was also caught, and Simba Gupo bowled by Mupariwa, the score was 126 for six and the match was very much in the balance.
The key man was Raza, but he needed a reliable partner. Brighton Mugochi (5) holed out at long on, while Admire Manyumwa (1) was caught at the wicket, both off Mupariwa. Raza reached his fifty off 56 balls, but then appeared to go for broke. He smashed John Nyumbu for two successive sixes but, aiming for a third, holed out at deepish square leg for 65 which came off 64 balls with six fours and two sixes.
Matabeleland Tuskers celebrated. For sure that they had the match wrapped up: 150 for nine.
The good news for Mashonaland Eagles was that they only needed a scoring rate of 2.66 runs per over to win. The bad news was that their last two batsmen had to score another 44 runs.
At first Timoni and Tafadzwa Muzarawetu played carefully, but they stayed in and began to play with increasing confidence. By the time they had put on 20 together, they were settled in and scoring quite freely, picking up mainly ones and twos quite easily.
At 191, Muzarawetu gave a sharp chance to forward short leg, who could not hold it. The scoring rate slowed, as with 12 needed, the batsmen felt the mounting pressure. Then, with the score at 194, Muzarawetu was beaten and bowled for 15 by Titus Chipare, and the match was over.
It had been a grand finish after all, and Timoni, not out 13, came out of it well, showing fine temperament.
For the first time, Mashonaland Eagles finish a season without a trophy.
Mountaineers will play Southern Rocks at home, but the latter are suffering from such a crisis of confidence that the fear is that the match will be a virtual walkover.