September 15, 2003

Blignaut shines as Mashonaland lose their way

Manicaland 523 and 113 for 3 (Gripper 61) lead Mashonaland 448 (Blignaut 194, Hondo 85*, Evans 50) by 188 runs

Manicaland's dreams of inflicting a defeat on Mashonaland for the first time in eight years receded during the third day's play, as they allowed Andy Blignaut and Douglas Hondo to add 237 for the eighth-wicket, a new Zimbabwean record. At the end of the day Manicaland led by 188 runs with three wickets in hand, but on a good pitch setting a target would be hazardous.

Almost immediately the crucial overnight partnership of Craig Evans and Blignaut was broken, as Evans paid the penalty of batting with a runner. There was a three-point mix-up after a slight misfield in the covers, and the burly Evans found himself limping back to the pavilion accompanied by his runner without adding to his overnight 50.

This should have been the decisive breakthrough, but instead Manicaland lost their grip. Blignaut reached his century, aided by ineffectual bowling and misguided field placings aimed at keeping him quiet rather than getting him out. The bowlers were unable to shift Hondo at the other end, and Manicaland, unable to effect Plan A efficiently, found themselves without any Plan B. The batsmen were scarcely tested, but they had the common sense to bat steadily, restrain any frustration and play the bowling on merit - or lack of.

Blignaut finally fell for his highest first-class score of 194, attempting to bring up his double-century with a six but instead skying the ball to midwicket. Hondo finished unbeaten with 85, by far his first-class best, and Mashonaland were only 75 behind on first innings.

On a sound batting pitch, a draw was now the most likely result. Manicaland went in again, but Mashonaland turned down two chances of an early breakthrough as slip fielders put down Neil Ferreira. Trevor Gripper carried on from where he left off in the first innings, racing to 61 out of 80 before being trapped lbw to provide Tatenda Taibu with his maiden first-class wicket.

Taibu, a nippy medium-pacer, had given the gloves to Brendan Taylor with Grant Flower injured, and bowled a good line and length. It proved an inspired move, as he took three wickets in quick succession, although two front-foot lbw decisions did not impress the batsmen.

Day 2 Bulletin