A fine team performance by Mid West Rhinos brought them a well-earned eight-wicket victory over the powerful Mashonaland Eagles in the third round of matches at Harare Sports Club. As usual, Elton Chigumbura shone for the home team with a swashbuckling half-century, but none of his team-mates came through with significant performances, and the Rhinos found several players whose combined efforts brought them success.
Eagles, put in to bat, attacked the bowling with reckless abandon, and in retrospect this probably cost them the match. Doug Marillier looked in good form, but was run out through the frozen immobility of his partner, Forster Mutizwa, who hit a six and was then himself run out by a brilliant throw from Vusi Sibanda as Eagles slipped to 33 for 4.
As he has done so often this season, Chigumbura rallied his side after the early setbacks shared a 57-run partnership of calm and steady batting with Greg Lamb before Lamb skied a catch to long off. Chigumbura reached his 50 with a six over long on off Darren Stevens, but was out next ball to a superb catch to become the first of Stevens' four middle-order wickets as the innings ended on 140.
Sibanda drove and cut the first and third balls of the Rhinos' chase, from Chigumbura, to the boundary, as the score raced to 30 off three overs. His partner Riki Wessels was even more aggressive, and the pair put on 61 in eight overs before Wessels was run out going for a quick single. He was replaced by Brendan Taylor, who batted with equal power and confidence, the 100 coming up in the 12th over. Sibanda was run out with 31 runs needed to temporarily slow the scoring rate but Taylor and Stevens paced their batting well, until three were needed off the final over, bowled by Chigumbura. Tight bowling and fielding saw only two scored off four balls, but Stevens lofted the fifth with superb timing over the bowler's head for six to clinch a rare victory over the strongest provincial side. Taylor was unbeaten with 45 off 30 balls, and a team effort in all three departments was fully evident for the victors.
Matabeleland Tuskers followed a superb victory over the strong Mountaineers with a heavy defeat at the hands of Southern Rocks, supposedly the weakest team, in the second match of the day. Outstanding batting by Chamu Chibhabha and Sikandar Raza led the Rocks to a total of 166, and with Tuskers able to muster only 123 for 9 in reply, this means that after three days and six matches, each team has recorded one victory.
The start of this match was delayed by just over 30 minutes due to a lunchtime shower, but fortunately it soon stopped - which does not always happen in Zimbabwe in February. The Rocks decided to bat on winning the toss and Chamu Chibhabha cut the first ball of the innings for four - the third successive time today the first ball of an innings had been hit to the boundary - and with his partner, the Pakistan-born Raza, even more aggressive, the Tuskers bowlers were soon on the receiving end of a hiding they did not expect to get.
The 50 came up in the sixth over and the 100 - the first century partnership of the tournament - in the 11th. It was left to Sean Williams, the seventh bowler tried, to break the stand. He bowled Raza as the batsman went for a big hit, having scored 53 off 34 balls, including 4 fours and 3 sixes. Steve Tikolo scored 10 before holing out at long off, and Sean Ervine managed only a single before being caught at the wicket. Chibhabha batted through the innings for an unbeaten 82, which included 7 fours and 3 sixes. Rocks looked a transformed team after ratcheting up a total of 166 for 4, but they still had the Blignaut factor to contend with.
Tuskers had no choice but to launch their assault from the first ball, but they were soon reeling with the loss of Gavin Ewing, Mark Vermeulen and Charles Coventry for only 16 runs. Williams and Keith Dabengwa rallied the team, but neither are power hitters and after 10 overs the total was 57 for 3 - meaning the required rate was now 11 an over. Somebody needed to get out to bring in Blignaut - and Dabengwa obliged.Blignaut began steadily, but soon lost Williams, brilliantly caught by Chibhabha at backward point off Ervine for 39 off 38 balls. Ervine then struck the vital blow, causing Blignaut to play a slower ball on to his stumps for just 4. With 15 an over now needed, the result was all but sealed, and Tuskers eventually went down by 43 runs.