Coca Cola Pro50 in Mutare: Matabeleland Tuskers beat Mountaineers by 131 runs.
A fine all-round performance by Matabeleland Tuskers, and in particular their all-rounder Keegan Meth, gave them a convincing victory over Mountaineers on the latter’s home ground in Mutare. The cricket committee’s decision to make Saturdays the match days in the 50-over competition was otherwise an instant success in Mutare, attracting an enthusiastic family crowd and a festival atmosphere.
Meth courageously returned to the Matabeleland Tuskers side only a month after his horrific facial injury against Bangladesh, and he was to play a vital role in this match with bat and ball, as he had on his last visit to this ground, in the Logan Cup final last April. Mountaineers were without Hamilton Masakadza, nursing a strain. Under cloudy skies Mountaineers won the toss and eagerly put Matabeleland Tuskers in to bat, as the pitch had cracks in it and was expected to help the bowlers considerably. There was some movement early on, but overall much less than the home side anticipated. After one ball had been bowled in the Tuskers’ innings play was suspended for almost 20 minutes as the black covering on the sightscreen was found to be inadequate and had to be fixed.
When play did resume, the batsmen struggled for a while against fine bowling from the occasional internationals Tendai Chatara and Shingi Masakadza. When Gavin Ewing was out lbw to Masakadza for 11, the score was 19 for one in the eighth over, after which Paul Horton struggled to 2 off 21 balls when he was dismissed. Terry Duffin made 21, but the middle order came through well. Craig Ervine made a more fluent 47 as the ball lost its shine, before giving his wicket away just short of his 50.
After the 37th over, though, the score was only 132 for five and Matabeleland Tuskers were struggling. From this point Keith Dabengwa and Meth transformed the innings. Dabengwa had begun cautiously, but soon opened up and batted superbly for his unbeaten 82, with six fours and three sixes. Meth joined in the assault, with 43 off 37 balls, and the pair added 108 in 13 overs, doing particularly well against the spinners. Matabeleland Tuskers finished with a score of 240 for five, far better than had looked likely for most of their innings. Masakadza was the best bowler, deserving better than his two for 38 off 11 overs.
Mountaineers never looked like challenging their target. Chris Mpofu and Meth bowled perhaps even better than their Mountaineer counterparts had done, but against feebler opposition. Bernard Mlambo pulled a ball from Mpofu magnificently for four, but he was all at sea against Meth, eventually edging him to second slip to depart for 8. Mountaineers suffered a serious blow when Tino Mawoyo also fell for 8, lbw to Mpofu, and the slide was on. Five wickets were down for 32 in the 13th over and there could be no coming back from here.
The acting captain, Timycen Maruma, fought defiantly for a while, cracking three powerful boundaries, but then he groped at a ball from Meth well outside the off stump and edged a catch to the keeper, departing for 17. Matabeleland Tuskers bowled Meth out, his 12 overs – the new limit now allowed in the 50-over game – going for 41 runs for four wickets. Shingi Masakadza pulled a short ball from Dabengwa for six to become only the second batsman in the side to reach double figures, and was followed by Donald Tiripano (15), the pair adding 35 together in a face-saving partnership. The final total was 109, Masakadza last man out for 28. Mpofu finished off the innings, finishing with four wickets for 20 runs. Cricketwise, the day was a disaster for Mountaineers; as a public relations exercise for the people of Mutare, it was a festive and well-run occasion.