Graeme Cremer inspired a remarkable turnaround by Mid West Rhinos as they booked their place in Saturday's semi-final with a 15-run win over Matabeleland Tuskers on a rainy afternoon in Harare. While Tuskers are already through to the next round, Rhinos came into the match needing a win to be sure of their spot in the semis. When Bradley Staddon's four wickets kept them to just 148 despite Brendan Taylor's classy half-century and Tuskers rushed to 58 for 1 on either side of an extended rain delay it seemed Rhinos' tournament was over.
Charles Coventry led Tuskers' chase with a typically adventurous 26-ball 41, but once he was dismissed - unsurprisingly, caught in the deep - and Tuskers pursued a reduced target the Rhinos' spinners came to the fore on a damp pitch. Brendan Taylor trapped Steven Trenchard lbw in his first over, and Cremer then found himself on a hat-trick as he removed Keith Dabengwa and Keegan Meth from consecutive deliveries.
Staddon survived the hat-trick ball, but was soon run out trying to get wicketkeeper Adam Wheater back on strike, and the Tuskers innings went into freefall. Wheater chipped Cremer straight to Malcolm Waller in the 13th over and two balls later the legspinner dipped a full, drifting delivery underneath Njabulo Ncube's bat to rattle the off stump. Chris Mpofu's run out by a rifling throw from the deep by Gary Ballance sparked scenes of exuberant celebration from the Rhinos, a brave fight-back earning them a worthy place in the semi-finals.
Mountaineers, who won this competition last season, crashed out after the round-robin stage this time round as they slipped to a 23-run loss against a resurgent Southern Rocks side. Another pair of bellicose half-centuries from Sikandar Raza and Elton Chigumbura lifted Rocks to 198 for 6, and despite a classic, never-say-die fifty from Lance Klusener Mountaineers could only manage 175 for 7.
Raza led the early exchanges for Rocks, following up his 93 on Wednesday with another aggressive innings. He put on 47 for the first wicket with Chamu Chibhabha, and 39 for the second with Chigumbura before departing for a 30-ball 54 that included eight fours and a six. Mountaineers worked their way through Rocks' middle order, Tatenda Taibu and Craig Ervine falling for single figures as they slipped to 108 for 4 in the 14th over.
But Chigumbura then picked up the charge in electric fashion, thrashing five sixes as he added 51 in four overs and one ball with Tendai Chisoro, who contributed 24 from just 13 balls. Steve Tikolo helped him give the innings a final boost with a quickfire 12, and Mountaineers were faced with the daunting task of chasing down almost 200 to stay in the competition.
Though Hamilton Masakadza and Tino Mawoyo gave them a decent start, the middle order struggled to impose itself upon the Rocks attack and Chris Harris's gentle leg-rollers were taken for just 13 runs in four overs. As the required rate went stratospheric it appeared Mountaineers would bow out with a whimper before Klusener entered, with dramatic results. In the space of four overs he put on 73 with Shingi Masakadza, who contributed a rapid 17, and Prosper Utseya, who managed just a single.
In an innings that rolled back the years, Klusener cracked seven sixes and reached his fifty from just his 17th delivery. His innings was not enough to revive Mountaineers but it did make for enthralling viewing for the spectators, whose numbers have steadily increased as this tournament has gone on.