ZIMBABWE BOARD XI v NATAL B
At Kwekwe Sports Club; 26, 27, 28 October 2000
In their first match of the season in the UCBSA Bowl Competition, the Zimbabwe Board XI defeated Natal B in the nick of time by 115 runs. The leading individual feats were centuries by Dion Ebrahim for Zimbabwe and Grant Rowley of Natal, and eight wickets in the match by Raymond Price.
The venue for this match was the Kwekwe Sports Club, the centre of perhaps the most rapidly expanding cricket area in Zimbabwe. The ground is in a deceptively rural setting, surrounded by indigenous trees and seemingly far from the small but expanding city and the rest of the well-supported sports club. The ground is well maintained, with a pitch good enough for New Zealand to run up almost 700 runs and opener Mark Richardson 306 to his own account the previous month. On this occasion, though, it was yielding more turn for the spinners. It is also probably the only ground in the country outside the Test venues to have an efficiently working scoreboard that also shows individual scores. Unfortunately the match was rather poorly supported by the public, although those who did attend were knowledgeable and appreciative, the highest quality of spectators.
Kwekwe has applied to host a World Cup match in 2003 but, due to the stringent ground qualifications required by the South African organizers, their main hope is to have a qualifying match held here. This would certainly be a further boost for Midlands cricket were their application to be accepted.
The Zimbabwe XI, which is not far off a national second team, batted on winning the toss and at one stage were 274 for four. Trevor Gripper led the way with a positive innings of 84, while Dion Ebrahim reaped the harvest with a fine innings of 122 not out. The most aggressive innings was played by wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu, who hit 39 off 34 balls. The last five batsmen contributed little, though, and the team was dismissed for 332.
Natal B also began well, with their first five batsmen all reaching 30, but Mall (70) was the only player to pass fifty, after being dropped early on. They also had little support from their tail and declined from 181 for two to 282 all out, giving the home side a lead of 50. Spinners Greg Lamb (off) and Ray Price (left-arm) took three wickets each.
By now two days' play had almost been completed, and the aim of the Board XI was to aim for a declaration in the hope of bowling Natal out a second time. Captain Gavin Rennie led the way with an attacking innings of 92 off 130 balls, but wickets fell quite steadily at the other end as his team aimed for a declaration before lunch. They were only 251 ahead at the interval, however, at 201 for six, and decided to bat on for another 18 minutes. They were then 214 for eight after 60 overs, setting a target of 275 in a minimum of 70 overs.
The chase was never on, as Natal lost both openers cheaply and shut up shop. The Zimbabwean spinners were soon on, bowling to attacking fields, and the Natal batting crumbled. Their batsmen looked highly fallible against the turning ball and at tea they were staring defeat in the face at 44 for six.
After tea Rowley decided that, since defence was futile, they had nothing to lose by attack, and in fact they gained much, enough to double the score. But it was a temporary respite, as further wickets fell, and only a stubborn last-wicket stand worried the bowlers as bad light threatened to end the match early. The latter was finally prised out, leaving Rowley with a remarkable unbeaten 103 out of a total of 159, despite being dropped in the nineties, a potentially fatal miss. Ray Price was the most successful bowler with five for 59.