Mashonaland 171 for 4 (Chigumbura 49*) beat Midlands 168 (Sibanda 51) by six wickets

For an hour, Midlands had the better of Mashonaland. A fine opening partnership gave hope of their first victory for many a year over the champions, only for a middle-order collapse to dash their hopes. They were never again in the game as Mashonaland once again ran out easy winners by six wickets.

The weather was hot and sunny, and the pitch at Country Club, the headquarters of the CFX Academy, was as usual flat and rather low. Tatenda Taibu put Midlands in to bat, expecting a little early moisture and backing his bowlers to make an early breakthrough. Events actually went in reverse to what he had hoped for.

Douglas Hondo opened the Mashonaland bowling at a gentle medium-pace as he eased his way back to full fitness. Despite frequently overstepping the crease, he was accurate, which was more than could be said for the bowlers at the opposite end, where Jordane Nicolle was fortunate to get away with two accidental beamers. Midlands openers, Vusi Sibanda and Douglas Marillier, were untroubled by the assortment of good and misdirected balls that came their way and played some good attacking strokes as they brought up the 50 in the 13th over.

Twice Mashonaland fluffed possible run-out chances. The opening pair put on 88 before Marillier (27) was given out lbw while moving down the pitch to drive Taibu, who was playing as an all-rounder while the 17-year-old Brendan Taylor kept wicket.

Midlands then proceeded to throw away their advantage. Sibanda went on to 51, but as so often, failed to follow through to a big innings, driving Grant Flower down the throat of long-off (99 for 2). Mashonaland continued their breakthrough when Craig Wishart (3), hero of Wednesday's match against Matabeleland, dragged his foot and was stumped by Taylor off Flower (102 for 3). Then Travis Friend, after scoring just 3 off 16 balls, clipped Taibu straight to midwicket, and Alester Maregwede (0) missed a sweep off a Flower full toss. Midlands had crumbled to 107 for 5.

The two left-handers, Sean Ervine and Terry Duffin, stopped the rot temporarily, but this stand too was broken by a soft dismissal. Duffin had 13 when he drove Waddington Mwayenga straight to long-on (147 for 6). At 157, Raymond Price (3) clipped a catch to midwicket and then Ervine (31) skyed an attempted pull to mid-on. That was virtually the end of the resistance as Midlands subsided to 168 all out. Taibu was the chief recipient of the Midlands batsmen's generosity, taking four wickets by bowling line and length and a steady medium-slow and letting the batsmen do the rest. Flower and Mwayenga took three wickets each.

In Mashonaland's innings, Friend was erratic but sometimes hostile. A blow on Brendan Taylor's arm guard and may have softened him up for Ervine, who bowled him for a single with a faster ball that moved back into him (13 for 1).

Nothing has gone right for Stuart Carlisle since his Test century against Australia, and he now finds himself fighting for his place in the Carlton and United series. He made 12 before edging Sean Ervine to the keeper in attempting a cut (40 for 2). Then Dion Ebrahim, also eager to regain his place, skyed a hook to long leg off Ed Rainsford for 25. At 53 for 3, Mashonaland were looking none too bright either.

Flower, in his first match since breaking his thumb in September, made a steady 31 before he cut Maungwa and was out to a brilliant catch by Friend, diving far to his left in the gully (87 for 4). Taibu played a steady innings, but Mashonaland could only maintain a scoring rate of just over three-an-over. Price did a fine containing job, conceding just 24 runs off his ten overs.

Elton Chigumbura proved a reliable partner, and gradually the pair took their team towards victory. A series of pulls by Taibu off Friend's short-pitched deliveries speeded up the end, and finally Chigumbura drove Craig Ervine over the covers for the winning boundary. He finished on 49, with Taibu on 38. Midlands were left to reflect on what might have been if they had only maintained their good start.