WITH two rounds to go in the Logan Cup competition, Mountaineers have an eight-point lead in the standings, but yesterday they were given quite a shock by their bottom-of-the-table opponents, Matabeleland Tuskers.
The visitors (this was a “home” match for Mountaineers) had taken a strong grip on the match at the end of the day, thanks to their top-class bowling, led by Thabo Mboyi with five wickets, and a dominating innings from Craig Ervine (61 not out), aided by Nkosana Mpofu (44 not out).
Players, officials and media alike rejoiced in the return of franchise cricket to the better facilities of Harare Sports Club, the one drawback being the state of the pitch.
It was obvious from the start that this was likely to be a low-scoring match, with a good chance of a finish within three days. The pitch was grassy and immediately proved helpful to both seam and spin. The day was humid and overcast, the outfield was slow and Matabeleland Tuskers were very happy to put Mountaineers in to bat on winning the toss.
Kevin Kasuza and Innocent Kaia opened the batting to the bowling of Tawanda Mupariwa and Mboyi.
Mupariwa, with a recent history of devastating spells with the new ball, was the most obvious threat, and the batsmen played him with great care, but they perhaps underestimated Mboyi. The right-arm seamer does not have an impressive record for his team, but this morning he found the pitch to his liking and bowled superbly, moving the ball both off the pitch and in the air.
At first his luck was not good — he failed to hold a sharp low return chance from Kaia when the batsman had four, and then Kasuza, on eight, survived a low chance to mid-off. Kasuza immediately hit a four, but then flashed at the next delivery and edged it to the keeper, scoring 12 of an opening partnership of 26.
Next ball Timycen Maruma pushed forward, for the ball to feather the edge of his bat and give the keeper, Shoun Handirisi, another catch.
Chris Mpofu, playing a rare four-day match in the hope that his body will not fall apart before the end of it, worked up a good pace as the batsmen struggled to 50, but on that total Handirisi, up to the stumps to Mupariwa, brought off a smart stumping to dismiss Kaia for 24.
He had looked the most assured batsman of the morning, but failed to push through for a major score.
Two runs later Mpofu had Foster Mutizwa caught at the wicket for 11, and thus the keeper had a hand in each of the first four wickets to fall.
Roy Kaia and Kudzai Sauramba reacted positively, refusing to let the bowlers tie them down, but on the stroke of lunch Sauramba (seven) was given out lbw well down the pitch to Mboyi, but hitting across the line.The score at the interval was 78 for five. Unless Mountaineers can show some powerful fighting spirit, this may prove to be the day they had the Logan Cup wrenched from their grasp.
Mountaineers — 136 in 45.4 overs (Tapiwa Mufudza 31*, Roy Kaia 29; Thabo Mboyi 5/46, Chris Mpofu 3/27, Tawanda Mupariwa 2/48)
Matabeleland Tuskers — 142/2 in 44 overs (Craig Ervine 61*, Nkosana Mpofu 44*; Shingirai Masakadza 1/22, Tapiwa Mufudza 1/27)
Stumps — Day 1: Matabeleland Tuskers lead by six runs with eight wickets remaining in the first innings. — zimcricket.