Mutare Sports Club; Sunday 26 November 2000
A somewhat overconfident Zimbabwe Board XI limped to a two-wicket victory over Easterns at Mutare Sports Club. The highlight of the match was a blistering 73 by the home captain Gus Mackay, but his team-mates gave him little batting support and in the end his team had to fight hard after their bowlers had done well to dismiss Easterns for 142.
The picturesque Mutare Sports Club ground looked in good form for the match. The pitch was playing quite well, although a little uneven, and the outfield looked in good condition, although spoilt by being remarkably slow. The `swimming pool' that was evident (from excessive rain) on the eastern side of the ground on my last visit in March had gone, to be replaced by a drainage trench which, I was assured, is extremely effective. Another tree has rotted away, though, and the early part of the match resounded to the roar of the electric saw as the workmen strove to remove a huge branch from its new position on the ground next to the clubhouse. The local folk were as friendly as ever, but few were there to greet the start. The numbers gradually swelled as the match progressed, up to perhaps 100.
Part of the reason, perhaps, was the lack of local players in the Board XI. The two ex-Academy players based in Mutare, Neil Ferreira and Patrick Gada, were both overlooked, and Ferreira in particular might have been given a game after his three Logan Cup centuries last season. He did not do well with Zimbabwe A in Sri Lanka and has not been in great league form this season, but it is to be hoped that the selectors are not ignoring players from the provinces, as may well tend to happen.
Easterns batted on winning the toss. Derek Brand hit the first two balls of the match from David Mutendera sweetly through the covers, but the thick outfield turned two deserved fours into a total of five. At the other end he was adjudged lbw to Gus Mackay, the Board XI's third captain in four matches after the previous skippers Gavin Rennie and Dirk Viljoen had been called to the international arena. Aldo van den Berg (1) was then smartly caught low in the gully by Mark Vermeulen off Mutendera, and Easterns were 18 for two.
Opener Johan Uys looked more solid, and he settled down with Anthony Pollock into a sound partnership for the third wicket. Pollock hit one murderous cover drive reminiscent of his great father Graeme, and the pair were attacking with great profit when Uys (23) hit a hard low catch to Mackay at mid-on off Pommie Mbangwa; Easterns 43 for three. Pollock was to be the top scorer with 30 as Easterns never really recovered.
Colin Kruger scored 24 and Godfrey Mbongani 23 not out, but the team was dismissed for 142 in only 41 overs. Ray Price returned the best figures of three for 25 from the lower and middle order while Pommie Mbangwa conceded just 10 runs for two wickets from his six overs. The seamers had set up the situation with their accurate bowling and the visiting batsmen were never able to break the shackles.
With the aggressive Gus Mackay opening the Board XI batting, the match could have been over almost within the hour, but he quickly lost Ray Price, departing reluctantly lbw for one. Mackay waited as long as the third over before swatting a six over midwicket; four others followed, with Mark Vermeulen almost anonymous at the other end until run out by a superb throw after being taken by surprise by a call for a quick leg-bye from a Mackay eager to face the bowling.
A mistimed slash to the cover boundary brought Mackay his fifty off 31 balls, after which he began to open out a bit. Another four through extra cover and an off-driven six followed in the same over; two overs later came two successive sixes, straight and over long-on. When he was finally yorked by Brand he had scored 73 off 44 balls, with 7 sixes and 4 fours, and the score was 92 for three. His big hitting rather obscured the ineffectiveness of the other top-order batsmen, who failed to knuckle down and apply themselves. At 111 for six, Craig Evans (14) was the only other batsman to reach double figures and Easterns suddenly looked more alert and motivated as they scented a gifted victory.
Dion Ebrahim and Tatenda Taibu had to put their heads down and work hard for runs, but at least time was not a problem. Taibu (13) was controversially given out caught at silly point to make it 130 for seven, and the feeling was that the umpires were rather too trigger-happy in this match. David Mutendera was run out seeking a unilateral single, but Ebrahim (15 not out), scorer of a century in the three-day match, was still there, with Hondo defending desperately in support. With the scores level, Easterns conceded a wide and the Board XI had clinched a rather undeserved victory. Easterns' most successful bowler was captain Anthony Pollock, whose medium-pacers took three for 25.