Despite a dogged rearguard action led by Guy Croxford, Manicaland went down to Midlands by ten wickets in their match that ended just before tea at the picturesque Mutare Sports Club today. Three wickets in an over by Vusi Sibanda brought their lengthy second innings to an abrupt close just as they were threatening to extend the visitors into the final session.
Manicaland resumed in the morning at 201 for three, still trailing by 133 runs. Stuart Matsikenyeri was quickly in touch, driving sweetly as he added 13 runs in 12 minutes to reach his fifty, which came off 81 balls. Guy Croxford remained uncharacteristically more subdued, but Matsikenyeri again produced a cameo when a monument was needed. On 59 he drove a return catch straight into Sean Ervine's midriff, reducing Manicaland to 226 for four.
Croxford grew ever more laborious and it took him more than an hour to move to his 50 from his overnight 37; it took him 185 balls altogether. Gary Brent was more aggressive and once into his stride hit Dirk Viljoen for three successive sixes over square leg, one clear over the pavilion there. In Viljoen's next over, though, he tried to lash Viljoen crossbatted through the covers and dragged the ball on to his stumps for 47.
Justin Lewis, sent in surprisingly as a sort of pinch-blocker, obstructed the bowlers for 46 balls in scoring 5, before he became Ervine's fifth wicket, bowled by a ball that kept low just before lunch. Raymond Price did an invaluable job, blocking up one end, and overall bowled 43 overs for just 52 runs, but without a wicket; Ervine was greatly in his debt.
Captain Viljoen was off the field for the last half-hour before lunch, and Craig Wishart took over the captaincy, introducing a more positive note to the Midlands play. Viljoen's field-placings attracted some criticism during the match, and he did not give specialist left-arm spinner Ian Coulson a single over in either innings.
Some frustration crept into the Midlands team after lunch as the batsmen remained obdurate, Kingsley Went settling in with Croxford. However, Croxford's concentration snapped as Douglas Marillier came on to bowl; he aimed a pull at the second ball, which may have kept a little low, but was straight, and had his middle stump knocked back. He made 79 off 285 balls in 310 minutes, surely the longest innings of his career.
Manicaland were still six runs behind with only three wickets left. However, Blessing Mahwire settled in comfortably and the eighth-wicket pair appeared untroubled by any of the bowlers. Went contributed to his own downfall for 28, though, as he tried to turn Vusi Sibanda to leg and was bowled. Alec Taylor hit a boundary before edging a catch to the keeper in the same over, and last man Leon Soma was bowled first ball.
Manicaland were all out for 365, leaving Midlands with 36 to win. The opening pair of Terry Duffin and Vusi Sibanda handled this task capably without loss.