Mid West Rhinos 222 for 8 ( Wessels 70, Chigumbura 2-42) beat Mashonaland Eagles 221 for 9 (Chakabva 62, Chinouya 3-20) by two wickets
In a thrilling Faithwear semi-final at Kwekwe Sports Club, Mid West Rhinos bounced back from defeat in the Logan Cup final the previous weekend by scraping home by two wickets against the same opposition, Mashonaland Eagles.
They were the better side all round on the day, but so nearly threw away the match at the death due to two needless run-outs and a bout of self-doubt. Despite fine batting from Vusi Sibanda and Rikki Wessels, it took the ninth-wicket pair of Ed Rainsford, who had again bowled superbly, and Simon Mugava to cobble together the last 14 runs to ensure they face Mountaineers in Mutare on Saturday for the one-day competition final.
Mid West Rhinos won the toss and put Mashonaland in to bat on what appeared to be a flat pitch. There was a good crowd from the start, most of it comprising several hundred schoolchildren, who added to a cheerful atmosphere with their enthusiastic chanting and dancing. The start was not promising for Mid West Rhinos, as they fumbled a run-out in the first over when the batsmen dithered over their opening run, and then Cephas Zhuwawo survived a low chance to third man with the score at 10.
However, there was a little early movement for the bowlers, and Rainsford and Taurai Muzarabani, bowling superbly, had the batsmen very wary, if rarely in real trouble. The first boundary did not come until the eighth over, when Zhuwawo slogged a ball from Muzarabani for six over long on. In the same bowler's following over he pulled a big six over square leg, but off the very next ball edged a low catch to first slip. He made 17 and Mashonaland were 30 for one. His opening partner, Prince Masvaure, did not survive him long, caught at mid-off for 13. Ryan Butterworth was superbly caught low at short extra cover when Mike Chinouya came on to bowl, and Mashonaland were suddenly 40 for three.
Mid West Rhinos maintained the pressure with some fine bowling backed by tight fielding. Chinouya took another two wickets, having Forster Mutizwa caught off a slice to third man for 12 and Greg Lamb caught driving to mid-off for five. He was then rested after bowling five overs for 20, taking three wickets, and surprisingly was not called on again.
Graeme Cremer was now bowling superbly at the other end, and was rewarded with the big scalp of Elton Chigumbura, who had so often steadied his team throughout the season when needed. Chigumbura tried to sweep him, only to lob a catch to the keeper, leaving Mashonaland in real trouble at 77 for six in the 24th over.
From that point, the bowling lost some of its intensity, while the batsmen learned better what game plan to use. Regis Chakabva stepped in where his seniors failed and hit a superb 62 off 52 balls (2 fours and 3 sixes), supported by Mark Mbofana with 23, and the pair nearly doubled the score. Their partnership ended in a run-out, Mbofana being the victim, and Chakabva quickly followed, perhaps unsettled by it. From 153 for eight, though, Trevor Garwe (19) and Raymond Price (34 not out) forged an invaluable partnership of 44, with Price in particular showing some innovative strokes, including a reverse sweep, which unsettled the bowlers. This enabled Mashonaland to save face with a final total of 221 for nine. Rainsford, with only 29 conceded off ten overs, was most unlucky not to take a wicket, he is on present form probably the best seamer in the country at present. There were two wickets for Muzarabani, expensive at the end - the neglected Chinouya in retrospect might have been a better choice for the death overs - and Cremer.
Mid West Rhinos, in their push for the final, which will take place in Mutare on Saturday, had the worst of starts when Innocent Chikunya, without a run on the board, slashed at the fourth ball of the innings, well outside the off stump from Chigumbura, and was easily taken by the keeper. They nearly lost Brendan Taylor at 12 from a hard chance to mid-on, but this was one of several misfields by Mashonaland. Taylor showed, apparently, great confidence right from the start, but played some risky strokes; however, this may just have been an excess of adrenalin, as he settled down to play more judiciously. Sibanda was less flamboyant but sounder, showing good shot selection.
Price came on to bowl a tight leg-stump line and restrict the scoring, and soon captured the wicket of Taylor, who holed out at deepish extra cover. He made 31 from 34 balls and the score was 78 for two in the 14th over. The hundred came up in the 19th, at which point Wessels was missed off the simplest of chances at mid-on. It now looked as if this pair was well settled, but disaster came as a mix-up between the batsmen led to Sibanda being run out for 56 off 76 balls. Next ball Malcolm Waller was caught at slip, Butterworth being the bowler, and the balance of the match was suddenly changed, Mid West Rhinos now stuttering at 117 for four in the 24th over.
Wessels, who refused to sacrifice himself for his captain, who was in such fine form, now had a moral responsibility to see his side through to victory. He and Cremer steadied the innings and built a sound partnership together. They added 72 together before, ironically, more poor running and another run-out saw the departure of Cremer for a valuable 22, just as Mid West were looking well set for victory. Wessels himself soon followed for 70, the leg-spinner Tino Mutombodzi taking a sharp return catch, and once again Mid West were in danger at 199 for six, 23 more needed with seven overs left and an unreliable tail to bat.
Friday Kasteni, the left-hander in such poor form recently, was the one recognized batsman left. A sharp pull for four off Chigumbura, returning for the death, showed he was not without confidence - but then the very next ball he tried a similar stroke to the wrong ball and popped up a simple catch to midwicket. This was trouble indeed now, with the two opening bowlers Rainsford and Muzarabani together. The ground erupted when Muzarabani swept Mutombodzi for a risky four, only for him to fall to a smart stumping next ball, with 14 still needed. But, with more than five overs left, at least they were not under pressure from the run rate.
It now looked as if the Mashonaland juggernaut would do it again as the novice Mugava joined Rainsford, talented but very inconsistent with the bat. Surprisingly, though, it was an over from Chigumbura, usually so reliable in a crisis, that gave Mid West their burst to victory. It included a high leg-side wide that went through to the boundary and some loose deliveries that went for runs and relieved the pressure. Finally a mishit by Rainsford brought three runs to the vacant fine-leg position off Mutombodzi, and Mid West Rhinos were through to the final by the skin of their teeth - or by the thick inside edge of the bat.