Eagles soar to trophy in thrilling one-run win
Mashonaland Eagles 167 for 7 (Compton 74, Hall 39*, Waller 2-23) beat Mid West Rhinos 166 for 6 (Sibanda 46, Vincent 39, Price 1-22) by one run
Mashonaland Eagles were crowned domestic Twenty20 champions after a thrilling one-run win over Mid West Rhinos in the tournament final at a packed Harare Sports Club. Eagles, who were thankful for Nick Compton's well-paced half-century as they reached 167 for 7 after winning the toss, appeared to be out of the running in the midst of Vusi Sibanda and Lou Vincent's 62-run stand. But they fought back valiantly, Ray Price bowling an unhittable spell at the death and Man of the Match Andrew Hall showing the immeasurable value of experience as he bowled a nerveless final over, with seven runs needed, to seal the title for the Eagles.
The tournament final was watched by a boisterous crowd of several thousand in a noisy, carnival atmosphere. The wail of vuvuzelas was almost constant, and music, along with booming updates delivered over the PA - not to mention a riveting day's cricket - held their interest throughout. This was a home final for Eagles, and after the win had been completed their captain, Grant Flower, led the team on a victory lap of the field, the crowd cheering their approval.
Though he didn't make a contribution with the bat, Flower marshalled his troops admirably in the field and was a particularly strong presence in the covers as the match headed towards its thrilling denouement. With Vincent and Rhinos captain Sibanda in cruise control, echoing their match-winning partnership against Southern Rocks on Saturday, and the result seemingly sealed, Flower turned to his spinners - Price and Greg Lamb - with almost immediate results.
Sibanda, whose form has picked up as the tournament has progressed, couldn't quite get to the pitch of a flighted offspinner from Lamb and chipped to deep square leg to be out for 46 in the 15th over and Eagles sensed their chance. Price, sporting a severe black eye and playing the part of the pugilist, proved almost impossible to get away and wasn't afraid to let the batsmen know what he thought of their efforts. The pressure soon told on Solomon Mire, as he aimed a wild heave as Price came over the wicket and was bowled for 2. When Riki Wessels was run out looking for a non-existent single from the very next ball, Eagles were right back in the match.
The decisive moment came in the 19th over, with Rhinos needing 10 runs, when Vincent - again opting to use a Mongoose bat - cracked a full ball from Ryan ten Doeschate towards long-off where Ryan Butterworth sprinted 10 metres in from the boundary and dived full length to cling on to the chance. Flower kept Hall for the final over, and in an electric atmosphere the former South Africa allrounder responded with a succession of pinpoint yorkers. With four runs needed from the final ball, Malcolm Waller slapped another full ball out to deep cover but just two runs resulted, and the Eagles were ecstatic.
Their win owed a lot to Compton's effort with the bat. He and Prince Masvaure weathered the early loss of Cephas Zhuwawo with a second-wicket stand of 85. Though a brief middle-order stutter followed, Compton had taken Eagles to the relative safety of 116 for 6 at the beginning of the 17th over when he departed for 74. He finished as the tournament's leading runscorer with 233 runs, including three half-centuries, at a strike-rate of 128.02.
Once he had departed, Hall showed his allround value as he muscled his way to a 17-ball 39 that included four fours and two sixes and boosted Eagles' score just beyond the reach of the Rhinos. After falling short in the tournament final last year, Eagles scrapped their way to the title this time round and celebrated their win in front of an enthusiastic home crowd in a fitting end to what has been, by all accounts, a successful and well-organised tournament.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo