Logan Cup, Day 3 in Mutare: Matabeleland Tuskers 306 and 186; Mountaineers 294 and 40/4.
This Logan Cup match is following a similar pattern to that of the thrilling Logan Cup final last April, where Mountaineers, set 247 to win, fell just short in the face of marvellous bowling by Keegan Meth. This time, set 199 to win, they look likely to lose again, with Meth having made the early breakthrough. The fat lady has not started singing yet, but with the home side at 40 for four wickets, with their two international batsmen both gone, Matabeleland Tuskers will be hoping to wrap up the match before lunch on the final day.
The day opened with Matabeleland Tuskers beginning their second innings, having scraped a lead of 12 runs on the first innings. From the start the Mountaineers bowlers were right on target, and they never relented. It was mostly seam before lunch, and Donald Tiripano was perhaps the most impressive of the bunch. The openers did not contribute much. After 30 minutes Shingi Masakadza beat Terry Duffin’s solid defence and hit his off stump; he had made 2 out of 13 for one. Without addition his partner Paul Horton shouldered arms to a ball from Tiripano that jagged back sharply off the crack in the pitch and took out his off stump.
Gavin Ewing and Craig Ervine dug in, but if they were waiting for the moment when the bowling relaxed and they could score freely, they were to be disappointed. Ervine struggled to 14 off 55 balls before edging a catch off Silent Mujaji to the keeper just before lunch; 50 for three. After the interval Ewing, also frustrated with only 25 off 75 balls, lashed out at a ball from Shingi Masakadza outside the off stump and edged it to the keeper. Matabeleland Tuskers slid deeper towards trouble when Steve Trenchard departed for 5, also edging the same bowler to the keeper.
The backbone of the innings was now Keith Dabengwa, who as in the first innings was playing soundly and sensibly, rarely looking troubled and keeping the score moving by skilful batting. But he fell victim to a clever ploy by the Mountaineers’ captain Timycen Maruma: he deliberately left a gap in the field through backward point, luring Dabengwa into attempting to take advantage of it, only for him to step back to steer the ball into the desired area and be out bowled for 33. At 100 for six the innings was in trouble, although on this crumbling pitch Mountaineers would not be able to chase with real confidence.
Keegan Meth, if unable to contribute much with the ball in the first innings, was determined to make his innings count, and he played a sound innings, selecting his shots wisely and keeping the board ticking over. He found a useful partner in Tafadzwa Ngulube in a stand of 47, before the latter also fell victim to Maruma, trapped lbw while sweeping. This left only the three rank tailenders that prop up the Matabeleland Tuskers batting. For the second time in the match, though, Chris Mpofu responded well to the giddy heights of number nine by reaching double figures (13) before being run out; 169 for eight.
There was some controversy as the umpires reprieved Njabulo Ncube when the fielding side claimed a juggled catch off Netsai Mushangwe, and Ncube promptly hit the next ball for six; in Mushangwe’s next over he holed out on the leg side for 8. John Nyumbu was immediately yorked by Masakadza, his fourth wicket, leaving Meth stranded with a valuable 41. The total was 186, which left Mountaineers to make 199 to win, no simple task on this pitch. Masakadza finished with four for 49.
The Matabeleland Tuskers bowlers made life as hard for the home batsmen as it had bee made for them. Only 7 runs had been scored when Bernard Mlambo (4) edged a ball from Meth low to first slip. Very much now depended on the two batsmen in possession, Tino Mawoyo and Hamilton Masakadza. The Matabeleland Tuskers threw everything but the kitchen sink at these two batsmen in an effort to break this vital stand, giving them a torrid time. Meth seemed right back to his best; he was extremely difficult to score from, and he did the trick for his team by ripping a ball through Mawoyo’s defences to bowl him for 5 off 27 balls. Mountaineers were 18 for two in the ninth over and looking vulnerable.
Jethro Maudzi held firm with Masakadza, and Meth took a break after an opening spell of 7-3-7-2. His replacement, Ncube, soon struck by having Maudzi (6) edging low to second slip; 34 for three. Then came the vital wicket they wanted: Mpofu forced Masakadza on to the back foot, playing the ball on to his stumps for 14, and the match looked as good as over at 34 for four. Maruma is still there, with Shingi Masakadza still to come, but somebody will need to do something startling to pull the match out of the fire for Mountaineers now.