Manicaland lose by 3 wickets despite Whittall century

Despite a fine all-round performance of 106 and three economical wickets, Guy Whittall could not bring victory to Manicaland as they went down by three wickets to Matabeleland at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. Trevor Gripper, rejected by many as a one-day player, scored a crucial fifty for the home side, while Piet Rinke played a crucial role in a tight finish to take them home.

Manicaland entered this match with an outside chance of winning the series, if they won this match, if Mashonaland lost to Midlands in Kwekwe, and if they were able to exceed Mashonaland's run rate. On another hot day they chose to bat on winning the toss.

Matabeleland were handicapped by the absence of Heath Streak, whose wife had just suffered a miscarriage. Manicaland were to be handicapped even more by the quick departure of their first three batsmen, all to Mluleki Nkala, captain for the day but not really dangerous with the ball. Alistair Campbell played what the cynic would call a typical innings: a beautiful off-drive for four off the first ball of the match, two past midwicket off the third, and a sliced catch low to gully off the fifth.

His opening partner Neil Ferreira is totally the opposite: a grafter of limited ability who never gives his wicket away, but this time he made just 3 before edging Nkala low to slip in the third over. Glen Barrett made 11 and then hit a skyer to extra cover, and Manicaland's hopes had virtually evaporated with their score at 27 for three. Mbangwa had doubtless played his part with an accurate opening spell, and he conceded only 23 runs off his 10 overs.

Fortunately Guy Whittall finally decided to show his first semblance of batting form this year, and played some good strokes with Richie Sims as a sleeping partner. They added 44 together before Piet Rinke removed Sims' off stump with a cleverly disguised yorker. Henry Olonga, sent in as a pinch-hitter, did not come off, as he made little effort to attack and only 6 before being trapped lbw by Gavin Ewing, and Manicaland were 101 for six.

By then Whittall was past his first fifty for many a long moon, and Stuart Matsikenyeri settled in for a sound innings. Matabeleland began to lose their grip, as the bowling lost accuracy against good batting. However, it seemed to be Nkala's lucky day, despite an erratic second spell, and he eventually picked up Matsikenyeri for 41, well caught on the straight boundary by Keith Dabengwa who had to run and dive. Minutes later Dabengwa followed it up with an even better diving catch in the covers to remove Guy Croxford (2).

Shortly afterwards Whittall reached a much-needed century off 136 balls, but on 16 was surprised to be given out lbw to left-arm spinner Gavin Rennie, bowling over the wicket. Paul Strang (8) was immediately given run out, thanks to a good throw by Nkala, in another close decision, and last man Blessing Mahwire was immediately bowled. The innings therefore closed on 208, with the last three wickets falling in five deliveries of the same over without a run being scored.

Matabeleland soon lost Mark Vermeulen without scoring, prodding with diagonal bat outside the off stump to Olonga and providing the keeper with a practice catch. After that a turgid over rate made progress seem slower than it actually was, and it was a surprise when Coventry hit a catch straight to square leg that his 40 had come off only 39 balls.

Rennie appeared to have set out his stall for a long innings, while Barney Rogers scored 15 before sweeping a catch off Sims to long leg. Then the balance tilted again as, immediately after the second drinks interval, Rennie drove a catch to mid-off off Whittall. At 115 for four, with 94 needed in 20 overs, the match was evenly poised again.

Gavin Ewing made 15 before Whittall struck again, having him adjudged lbw, and things became more difficult for Matabeleland, with not much batting to come. The required run rate rose to more than six an over as Nkala became slightly bogged down, with Gripper required to do most of the scoring. They were just beginning to get on level terms again when Olonga yorked Nkala for 12.

This turned out to be a blessing, as Piet Rinke smote two fours off Olonga in his first over at the crease. Then, with victory in sight, Gripper (54) tried an unnecessary reverse sweep off Campbell, surprisingly introduced, and top-edged a catch to the keeper. Matabeleland could have faltered, but Rinke played a fine cameo of an innings, 24 off 16 balls, and won the match with a straight drive to the boundary off Campbell.

The 'crowd' numbered about 90 at its afternoon peak, slightly more than on Friday. For the first time the impressive big new scoreboard prepared for the World Cup was in operation, although not fully complete. In a remarkable deviation from what appears to be normal practice in some countries, Zimbabwe included, it is fully visible from the press box.