A dashing fifty by Richie Sims and a typically determined 90 by Neil Ferreira took Manicaland to a fairly impressive total of 376 for eight wickets at the picturesque Mutare Sports Club in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.
Conditions began overcast, although this is common in Mutare and often lifts, as it largely did during the course of the day, and there was an early-morning drizzle, leaving the outfield damp. When Neil Ferreira won the toss for Manicaland he decided to bat on a placid pitch predicted to take slow spin later in the match, also in the hope that the outfield would soon dampen the ball!
Manicaland suffered an early setback, losing opener Dylan de Beer, one of this year's CFX Academy graduates, caught at slip in the first over for 2. Midlands nearly did better, but new man Richie Sims was dropped at third slip in the next over, bowled by Travis Friend.
The pitch helped the seamers early on when the bowlers put the ball on the right spot - which wasn't offer. Sims proceeded to show his gratitude by taking his toll of inaccurate bowling by the two national seamers: Friend bowled several full tosses and was given an official warning for an unintentional beamer, while Ervine preferred the long hop. Sims used the pull for both to good effect, while Mr Reliable, Neil Ferreira, like Old Man River, just kept rolling along, picking up his runs without fuss or flourish.
Ferreira is a massive scorer at Logan Cup level, but there is a feeling he hasn't quite the talent to succeed against international bowlers. Not that the selectors have given him much chance to prove it, and ironically his job as wicketkeeper means that they may tend to think of him in that role, where he is not of international standard, rather than as a batsman. If all Zimbabwe's national players had his heart, Andy Flower would scarcely be missed.
Vusi Sibanda was surprisingly introduced as first change and showed his seniors how to bowl on the spot, even if he had no pace or movement to take advantage of it. Thanks to the profligacy of the faster bowlers, however, Sims was able to run to his fifty off 49 balls. Then, with 56 to his credit, he played over a faster yorker from Sibanda and lost his off stump. Manicaland were 86 for two.
Guy Croxford took his place, although not seeming in touch. He had a few good bursts amid stagnant periods, and survived until the break. He did not last long after lunch, failing to add to his 30 before he was caught in the slips off Friend. Stuart Matsikenyeri replaced him and played some of his characteristic forcing strokes off the back foot on the off side.
There did not seem to be much imagination on the part of Dirk Viljoen, the Midlands captain, who persisted with his erratic national seamers and for a long time ignored Raymond Price and the three other spinners, including himself, in his team. Even Price when he came on belatedly for his second spell bowled more loose balls than usual before he settled down.
A good partnership was developing when Sibanda, having taken a wicket, produced a brilliant throw from the covers to run out Matsikenyeri for 43. Manicaland were now 238 for four; Sibanda, after bowling well, produced this brilliant piece of fielding, and now all he needs to do is get a big score against his name.
Without addition Ferreira missed what would have been yet another century when, trying to hit an on-drive over the top, he was caught at mid-on for 90. This was suddenly the breakthrough Midlands needed when the match appeared to be slipping from them. Gary Brent and Kingsley Went dug in and held out until tea.
Brent began to open up after the interval, hitting a six and a four in the second over, bowled by Douglas Marillier. Went joined the party, hitting a huge six over the pavilion at square leg, and two others, but both saved their big hits for the right balls. It took a brilliant catch by Friend running back at full speed from mid-on to hold a skyer over his shoulder to dismiss Went for 38. This was the fourth partnership of between 68 and 86 runs of the innings, all broken when looking really dangerous.
Blessing Mahwire failed to score, trapped lbw by a yorker from Ervine, but Brent went on to 43 before being caught at slip off Sibanda, who stepped up a yard or two in pace. Alec Taylor began slowly before deciding to join the big-hitting stakes, lofting a ball on to the pavilion roof. Justin Lewis proved obdurate, and Friend indulged in a spate of unnecessary bouncers, no doubt frustrated by the belief that he was not good enough to bowl out the tail-enders. The pair were unbeaten at the close, with 39 and 4 respectively.