A new Zimbabwe record first-class total of 715 for eight wickets declared was set today at Mutare Sports Club, as Midlands piled on the agony against the home side. Dirk Viljoen took advantage of a flat pitch and even flatter bowlers to hit his first double-century, but Manicaland were not to be cowed and had replied with 201 for three wickets by the close, still 133 behind.
Dirk Viljoen, 57 overnight, was soon pursuing the Manicaland bowlers with real intent almost from the first ball of the day. Alester Maregwede was much less certain, and struggled to make contact with the ball early on, but he hung in and was happy to play second fiddle to his captain until the latter reached three figures.
Viljoen went on to record the third century of the innings and only the second of his career, off 173 balls. After this, Maregwede actually speeded up more quickly than he did, running to his fifty and hitting a huge six over midwicket in the process. Manicaland were visibly discouraged in the field by now, but Maregwede had mercy, lofting a catch to deepish midwicket to depart for 55.
Travis Friend, out of form and confidence with bat and ball at present, was adjudged without scoring, and Midlands were 586 for seven. With Raymond Price as his new partner, Viljoen increased his own scoring rate, and at lunch was 178 not out, his highest score in first-class cricket, with Price on 19.
Midlands continued to bat after lunch, Viljoen having his double-century in mind. The scoring slowed as he approached the landmark, and on 197 he lost Price (36), who hit a return catch to Soma, a bonus to a bowler totally off form. Next ball Soma bowled four wides, and the 700 came up for the first time in a first-class match involving any Zimbabwean team.
In the next over Viljoen turned a ball from Richie Sims to fine leg for four and reached his first double-century. Sims still had the time and good nature to joke with him at the end of the over. Viljoen continued to bat for a few more minutes before unaccountably declaring in the middle of an over, much to the annoyance of scorer Julie Price, wife of Raymond and daughter of umpire Kevan. The new Zimbabwe record total was 715 for eight, a lead of 334, and Viljoen's score was 207.
With an hour to play until tea, Manicaland's aggressive opener Dylan de Beer initially seemed determined to wipe off the deficit by the interval. He began with a flurry of strokes, but when Friend stepped up to top pace and tested him with bouncers, he wisely decided on a little more discretion. But there was a bitter blow for Manicaland in the third over as the backbone of their batting, Neil Ferreira, edged Sean Ervine to the keeper to depart without scoring; 18 for one.
Would all the fight go out of the Manicaland team now? De Beer started hooking again, depositing Friend over the fine-leg boundary for six, 15 coming off the over. Richie Sims joined the party, with Friend especially bowling too short on a slow pitch; 51 came off his first four overs, mostly to or over the leg-side boundary. Intoxicated by their own success and with little or nothing to lose, the batsmen were soon hitting out at everything, but they got away with it, uppish strokes evading the fielders, some of whom appeared rather too casual at times.
One of the happy hookers, Sims, did not survive until tea, well caught by Friend, the first time he had managed anything right this day, on the long-leg boundary for 45, off the bowling of Vusi Sibanda, who had replaced Friend at the bowling crease. De Beer reached his fifty on the stroke of tea, after facing 38 balls, while Manicaland were 105 for two after just 14 overs.
The spinners were on after the interval and, apart from a full toss from Viljoen that was gratefully pasted to the midwicket boundary by Guy Croxford, scarcely a stroke was played in anger for quite a while. De Beer, much less happy against spin, survived a stumping chance, and then when Ervine returned to bowl he drove back a return catch to depart for 74; Manicaland 142 for three.
Slowly Croxford and Stuart Matsikenyeri settled in, waiting for the bad ball and seeking to dispatch it for four. By the close, Manicaland still had some small hope of saving the game, with the batsmen still there on 36 and 37 respectively.