Despite the presence of the great Brian Lara in their ranks, and his contribution of 65 runs, Southern Rocks were unable to match Mashonaland Eagles, who made a good start to the tournament with a 28-run victory at Harare Sports Club. As the second edition of the Stanbic Bank 20 got underway, the hot, sunny weather was ideal for cricket and a crowd of several hundred had entered the ground in time for the start of play.
Southern Rocks put the Eagles in to bat on winning the toss, and some tight bowling kept the batsmen under reasonable control at the start. Chamu Chibhabha and Chris Harris worked their way through the batting line-up, and Eagles slipped to 114 for 6 when Somerset batsman Nick Compton was run out for a 49-ball 70.
Chibhabha was on a hat-trick when he removed Andrew Hall and Regis Chakabva with consecutive deliveries in the 18th over, but Trevor Garwe survived his first ball and then launched a remarkable assault on the bowling in the closing overs. He and Ryan Butterworth added 45 in 15 balls, Garwe hitting three sixes as Mike Chinouya's medium pace and Steve Tikolo's offspin bore the brunt of their attack.
Southern Rocks lost Chibhabha in the first over of their chase to bring Lara to the crease. Lara had a stint in the unofficial Indian Cricket League in 2007-08 and played for an MCC side against Pakistan at Lord's in June, but has not played much competitive cricket in recent years and took some time to settle.
He slowly picked up momentum, adding 53 for the second wicket with Sikandar Raza, and began to open up when Tatenda Taibu joined him at the wicket. He accelerated past fifty, hitting eight fours and a six, but with 43 needed off the last four overs, Lara lofted a catch to long-off and was gone for 65 off 47 balls.
With the required rate rising all the time, Rocks' lower middle order swiped desperately and Garwe swung the match decisively towards Eagles with four wickets in the 18th over. Elton Chigumbura, who made a surprising move from the Eagles to the Rocks days before this tournament began, was pinned lbw and Tikolo, Taibu and Tendai Chisoro quickly followed.
The experienced Harris was perhaps kept back too long and was left stranded with 7 when the last wicket fell in the final over. For Mashonaland Eagles there had been two crucial turning points: the final blaze by Butterworth and Garwe with the bat and then the crucial dismissal of Lara.
In the second match of the day reigning Twenty20 champions Mountaineers dominated Mid West Rhinos from beginning to end to open their tournament with a 35-run win. Hamilton Masakadza batted through their innings and while he missed out on a century his muscular, unbeaten 96 set up a daunting total of 191 for 5. Rhinos lost Brendan Taylor to the very first ball of their chase and never really recovered, a brief flutter from their middle order adding a sheen of respectability in defeat.
Masakadza and Jonathan Beukes got Mountaineers' innings off to a fluent start with a 52-run opening stand, and Greg Smith and Sean Ervine helped keep the momentum up after Beukes picked out Malcolm Waller to give Graeme Cremer the first of his three wickets.
The score had passed 170 when Ervine was bowled by Cremer in the 18th over, and it was left to Masakadza to boost the score in the closing overs as Lance Klusener was run out for 2 and Timycen Maruma was castled first ball by Ed Rainsford. Masakadza swung the last ball of the innings to fine leg to finish four runs short of a hundred, having hit eight fours and four sixes and faced 59 balls.
Taylor has been in stellar form with the national side this year, but made no impact in Rhinos' chase as he flicked the first ball of the innings, from Shingi Masakadza, straight into the hands of Prosper Utseya at long leg. Utseya opened the bowling from the other end with his offspin, keeping a tight line as his first two overs went for just seven runs. Frustration set in for the batsmen and wickets fell as they tried to break free. Three wickets fell in the first five overs for the addition of just 22 runs before Malcolm Waller launched a fightback, hitting out powerfully.
It was a hopeless cause, as the required rate had risen beyond 13-an-over halfway through the innings, but Waller's fighting 31 off 25 balls did at least change the tone of the innings. Solomon Mire gave him admirable support, thrashing Maruma for two enormous sixes in an 18-ball 31. In the dying overs Riki Wessels hammered 45 not out off 26 balls, but by then the result was already a foregone conclusion and his innings simply allowed his team to retain some dignity in defeat.
The morning crowd grew steadily during the afternoon and there were perhaps a couple of thousand spectators of all races present during the second match. The new embankment proved a popular spot and, even if the finish wasn't exciting, the opening day of the Stanbic Bank 20 was at least entertaining.