A REMARKABLE unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 74 between the unrelated Mpofus, Nkosana and Chris, has kept Matabeleland Tuskers in the enthralling match at Bulawayo Athletic Club.
They batted throughout the final session when all looked lost for their team, so that by the close they still had three wickets in hand and needed another 56 runs to snatch an unlikely victory.
Overnight Mid-West Rhinos were all out for 291 in their second innings; there was no time for Matabeleland Tuskers to start the final innings of the match in pursuit of what appeared to be an unlikely target of 288. They duly began at 10 o’clock on the third morning of the match, and looked purposeful from the start.
Brian Chari made most of the early running with some good strokes in what proved to be a brief innings, as when he had scored 16 off 23 balls he unwisely shouldered arms to a delivery from Carl Mumba that came in and knocked out his off stump; 30 for one. This was to be the visitors’ only success of the morning, as Nkosana Mpofu and Taffy Mupariwa knuckled down and faced the attack with great concentration and determination.
The seamers found little help from the pitch, although when the spinners came on later they did get some turn. The cracks did not have the influence that has been expected.
The pair batted safely through to lunch, when the total was 77 for one, Mpofu on 26 and Mupariwa 25.
After lunch they looked set to continue, but a splendid catch in the deep by Remembrance Nyathi changed the situation dramatically. Mupariwa tried to pull a ball from Brandon Mavuta over the midwicket boundary for six, but Nyathi turned and ran with his back to the ball, holding it safely just inside the boundary.
Mupariwa made 31 and Matabeleland Tuskers were now 88 for two. Craig Ervine looked in ominously good form when he went in, and soon drove Mavuta for a straight six, but was then given out caught down the leg side by the keeper for 15.
Drinks were taken, and then off the very next ball delivered Keith Dabengwa was caught low down on the off side, also by the keeper — two wicketkeeping catches off successive balls from Mkhululi Nyathi. The score had now slumped to 117 for four.
Seven runs later the situation worsened as Cunningham Ncube tried to drive a ball from Mavuta and skied a catch into the covers.
Then, at 127, Shoun Handirisi was out in the most unfortunate of ways: Nkosana Mpofu drove a ball from Mkhululi Nyathi straight back down the pitch, only for it to bounce fortuitously off the bowler’s hand and on to the stumps that end, with Handirisi run out backing up as he should have been.
Nkosana Mpofu, who had opened the innings, was Matabeleland Tuskers’ only hope now, and the team were no doubt hoping desperately that he would repeat his performance on two years ago, when he batted through the innings for a century and took his team to a thrilling one-wicket victory over the unfortunate Southern Rocks team.
After tea Chris Mpofu joined his namesake. As in the first innings, he produced some forward defensive strokes he had obviously borrowed from somebody else, and showed good discrimination in unleashing some of his very own big hits, and helped by a couple of errors in the field.
The score rose to 200, but the batsmen became increasingly bogged down. Chris actually went half an hour stuck on 38, his previous best first-class innings, before finally hitting a four to take him into the forties for the first time.
Mid-West Rhinos — 170 and 291 in 65,1 overs (Bothwell Chapungu 118, Tendai Maruma 40; Charlton Tshuma 4/55, John Nyumbu 3/80)
Matabeleland Tuskers — 174 and 232 for 7 in 90 overs (Nkosana Mpofu 81*, Chris Mpofu 49*; Mkhululi Nyathi 2/32; Brandon Mavuta 2/91)
Stumps — Day 3: Matabeleland Tuskers need another 56 runs to win with three wickets remaining. — zimcricket.