All-round Mountaineers scale Twenty20 peak
Mountaineers 106 for 1 (Masakadza 64*, Taibu 37*) beat Mashonaland Eagles 105 (Smith 3-11, Utseya 3-24) by nine wickets
Mountaineers put their disaster of the previous morning behind them to beat the favourites, Mashonaland Eagles, in magnificent style by nine wickets to win the final of Zimbabwe's inaugural Twenty20 competition. After bowling their vaunted opponents out for a mere 105 runs, they stormed to victory on the back of impressive innings by the two renowned internationals and former schoolmates, Hamilton Masakadza and Tatenda Taibu.
The rain, so common in February in Zimbabwe, threatened to spoil the finals day at Harare Sports Club, and there were showers just before and after the toss. But the tournament's good fortune continued, and despite the uncertain weather a large multi-racial crowd of several thousand attended. They did not get the bonanza of boundary hitting that they no doubt expected, but they seemed to have a good time. Mountaineers continued their remarkable run with the toss, putting Eagles in to bat.
Doug Marillier, after playing and missing the first two balls from Tendai Chatara, drove the third over the covers for four. His partner, the aggressive Cephas Zhuwawo, hit a couple of boundaries before he was well caught at deep midwicket for 13. The opening pair put on 26, and this was destined to be the highlight of the innings as far as Eagles were concerned. Without addition Marillier drove a catch to mid-off, and the slide was on.
For a while Prince Masvaure and Greg Lamb consolidated, adding 20 before the former, on 10, skied a catch to deep mid-off. The 50 came up in the ninth over with three wickets down, but after this the tension certainly seemed to affect the Eagles batsmen, even as the Mountaineers were stimulated to their best bowling and fielding standards. Lamb, swinging at a ball from the legspinner Natsai Mushangwe, was caught at the wicket for 14, and Forster Mutizwa and Regis Chakabva quickly followed.
This left Elton Chigumbura carrying the burden of the innings, as he has done with such success before. But this was not to be his day: having scored 20 off 17 balls, he appeared to be caught in two minds and presented Timycen Maruma with a simple return catch. Mountaineers celebrated with great excitement, certain now that they were right on top; 84 for 7 in the 15th over. So it proved, and only minutes later Mushangwe, not yet a regular Mountaineers player, achieved a brilliant direct hit to run out Admire Manyumwa. The innings did not even go the distance, closing for 105 in the 19th over. Greg Smith and Prosper Utseya both took three wickets.
After their collapse the previous morning, Mountaineers could take nothing for granted. Masakadza slashed the second ball of the innings over the slips for a one-bounce four. He soon lost Greg Smith (1), however, who pulled a ball from Douglas Hondo low to midwicket in the third over. Taibu joined Masakadza, and these two experienced players were not about to repeat the mistakes of the previous morning against this opposition. They played the bowling on its merits, which were considerable, with Taibu especially careful until he swung a ball from Lamb over midwicket for six, followed by another six over extra cover in Lamb's next over. Eagles fought desperately hard to break through, but the team that is so often an irresistible force in Zimbabwe cricket now met two immovable objects, and the runs kept coming at the ample rate of about six an over.
The match was as good as decided when, on 101, a powerful smash by Taibu burst through the hands of the mid-off fielder. Masakadza pulled the following ball for a thunderous four to tie the scores, and then swung the next to long leg for the winning run, bringing the entire team running on to the field to celebrate. Quite a section of the crowd followed, to congratulate the popular winners. It was indeed a thrilling achievement for the team based in Mutare, the small city in Zimbabwe's eastern highlands.
This tournament has been an unqualified success for cricket in Zimbabwe - or Harare, at least. Dominus Sports ran a successful marketing campaign that quite outdid expectations, drawing crowds numbering thousands at the weekends, more than have been seen at most international matches. Given that Twenty20 is basically 'gimmicky' cricket, the general standard of play was good and the feeling abounds that cricket in Zimbabwe is vibrant again and only a short distance away from regaining Test status with honour.