Stanbic Bank Twenty20 Series February 15, 2010

Eagles and Mountaineers edge thrillers

John Ward

Mashonaland Eagles inflicted the first defeat of the tournament on the Namibia Vipers, by five wickets, in a final-over thriller at the Harare Sports Club. Their main hero was the former national player, Doug Marillier, whose superb 74 blazed the trail that led to victory.

Vipers began unimpressive after Eagles won the toss and fielded. Raymond van Schoor was dropped from a hard chance to slip off the first ball of the match, and in the second over Gerhard Rudolph (1) drove a simple catch into the covers. By the seventh over they were 24 for 3, looking a fraction of the team that overwhelmed Rocks in their first match.

Here, however, the improvement began. Norbert Manyande, the former Zimbabwean, joined Dwaine Pretorius and the pair rescued the side through good running and judicious big hitting. Manyande reached his 50 off 39 balls and next ball holed out at long-on. Pretorius quickly followed, caught in the deep for 34, but Tobie Verwey clubbed a couple of boundaries to carry the total to 142 for six.

Eagles also made an indifferent start, losing two wickets for 22 before Greg Lamb joined the opener Doug Marillier. They combined well to lift the score to 60 for 2 after 10 overs, before Lamb skied a catch to depart for 19. Marillier upped the rate with a mixture of orthodox and unconventional strokes. On 41 he swept a six over square leg, and reached his 50 with another effortless six over long leg. The 100 came up in the 15th over, not yet quite up with the required rate, but with wickets in hand.

With Eagles looking comfortable Elton Chigumbura was run out in a terrible mix-up for 15, and then Marillier quickly followed, trapped in front by Tony Palladino for a magnificent 74 (60 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes). It set up a tense finish with 15 needed from the final 12 balls. Forster Mutizwa and Regis Chakabva ran superbly to leave five required off the final over. The first ball was a full toss and Mutizwa pulled it superbly for four, and followed it with a single the next ball to take his team home.

Meanwhile, in a sterling contest that brought 379 runs, Mountaineers held on by the skin of their teeth to beat Southern Rocks by a single run. Their heroes were Hamilton Masakadza, who scored 102, and Tatenda Taibu, while Rocks produced superb batting from Chamu Chibhabha and Steve Tikolo.

Mountaineers banked on getting the best from a tiring track by batting first after winning the toss. After Bernard Mlambo was yorked attempting a wild swish at Blessing Mahwire for 6, it was one-way traffic as Masakadza and Taibu massacred the hapless Rocks bowling.

They were on the charge immediately, Masakadza unfurling two crisp strikes for six over long-on and long leg. The 50 came up after six overs and the 100 in 13 - after which they decided to step up the pace. Masakadza gave a hard chance to long-on when he had 80, but in the final over he reached 100 with a straight six and an edged four in successive balls from Anthony Ireland. Masakadza ended with 102 off only 56 balls, including six fours and six sixes. Taibu had done his part, with his unbeaten 71 containing five fours and a six and the second-wicket partnership adding 179.

With Rocks facing an imposing total the Mountaineers' bowlers were a little too confident and Chamu Chibhabha at least was going down, if he must, with all guns blazing. 39 runs came off the first three overs, mostly to Chibhabha, but with seven wides also helping total. The 50 came up in the sixth over for one wicket, making victory still a theoretical possibility. Chibhabha enjoyed a narrow escape, a hard chance on the leg boundary on 48, but reached 50 off 35 balls. Steve Tikolo joined in with some fine strokes, and the 100 came up in the 12th over.

With 48 needed off the last five overs, an incredible Rocks victory seemed very possible. But Prosper Utseya struck the vital blow by bowling Chibhabha for 70. This proved the turning point, arresting the momentum at a crucial time. Tikolo was still there and by the last over 15 was needed to win. Tikolo cut the first ball for four, but was then run out in another mix-up. Nine was needed off the last two balls and new man Ian Harvey could only manage only a single off the penultimate ball. In a final act of defiance Alester Maregwede hit the last ball for six but it was not quite enough.