April 19, 2002

Mashonaland on top in Harare after Day 1

Thanks to the letdown by Australia, the Zimbabwe season of 2001/02 draws to a close this weekend. Mashonaland, having won all four of their matches, were aiming to complete a clean sweep of victories for the second successive year, but still needed to collect 16 points from this match to overtake Midlands and retain the Logan Cup. By the close of the first day they were well on their way, having dismissed the Academy for a rather spiritless 122 and then scored 116 for three themselves.

Gus Mackay, captaining Mashonaland, won the toss and put the Academy in to bat, proving once again that God is on the side of the big battalions. There had been a lot of rain during the previous week and the pitch had taken a soaking, although it did not give the bowlers as much help as had been expected.

Mashonaland opening bowlers Brighton Watambwa and Gus Mackay did not force the batsmen to play the ball often enough, and tended to pitch too short during their opening overs, allowing Charles Coventry and Neeten Chouhan to survive and gradually open out. They were beaten several times but the bowlers were unable to apply the consistent pressure required. Scoring was not easy on the heavy outfield, and as usual at Country Club there was no scoreboard worthy of the name.

The opening pair scored a useful 37 together before Coventry (14) drove Mackay into the covers and was smartly picked up off his toes by Waddington Mwayenga, younger brother of Academy player Allan. This began a collapse: Innocent Chinyoka quickly followed, playing a ball from Mackay on to his stumps via the inside edge. Stuart Matsikenyeri (5), returned from a prosperous club season in Australia, was lbw to an off-cutter from Mackay and captain Andre Hoffman (0) snicked Mwayenga to the keeper. Worse was to come, as Conan Brewer (0) slashed the same bowler seemingly wide of gully, only for the giant Craig Evans to leap to his left and pluck a brilliant one-handed catch out of the air. The Academy were in deep trouble at 45 for five.

Opener Chouhan was still there, and Tom Benade settled in to partner him with resolution until being caught at slip off the medium-pace of Evans for 3. Piet Rinke looked calm and comfortable, and almost on the stroke of lunch leg-glanced Evans for the first boundary of the match.

The return of Mackay after lunch soon ended Chouhan's commendable vigil, trapped right in front of his stumps for 37. Barrett followed next ball without scoring, unlucky to be adjudged lbw after edging the ball on to his pads. This brought to an end a possibly unique record; he had hit at least one six in each of his first six first-class innings.

Rinke (19) quickly followed to a soft dismissal, caught in the covers off a leading edge, but the last pair, Sherezad Shah and Jordane Nicolle, showed up their seniors in the batting order with some sound batting. They needed 12 to take the team total to three figures, and then added another 22 before Nicolle was trapped lbw sweeping at Rogers.

Nicolle scored 20 and Shah 14 not out, and the ease with which these two handled the bowling put the entire innings into perspective. The pitch was not a serious problem, the bowling apart from Mackay at times not unduly hostile, but few of the batsmen had shown much fight.

The Academy soon struck back, as Nicolle bowled a vicious leg-cutter to bowl Lance Malloch-Brown for 2 in the first over. Then, just before tea, he had Trevor Gripper (9) well caught low down by Matsikenyeri in the gully.

After the interval, Rogers and Dion Ebrahim responded to the situation by digging in deep, the runs slowing to a trickle. They added just 24 in the hour until drinks, after which Rogers began to open up until he ran himself out for 42. Craig Evans hardly knows how to block, and he was soon taking heavy toll of the longitudinally challenged deliveries of the Academy spinners. By the close Ebrahim had scored an uncharacteristic 27 in more than two hours, while Evans had 31.