|Scorecard:||Mashonaland v Midlands|
Lunch: Mashonaland 82/6 (Butterworth 19*, Hondo 0*).
Tea: Mashonaland 103; Midlands 61/1 (Brewer 34*, Friend 15*).
Close: Midlands 157; Mashonaland (2) 5/0.
Anybody watching the Logan Cup match between Mashonaland and Midlands at Harare Sports Club – a purely hypothetical situation, since the stands were empty of spectators – would naturally conclude that first-class cricket in Zimbabwe is in a very sorry state, especially insofar as the batting is concerned. Two full innings were completed, and virtually all the batsmen to be dismissed gave their wickets away weakly.
That is, if our imaginary spectator realized that this was a first-class match at all. The administrators didn’t seem to realize that. As usual, no effort was made to publicize the match, to welcome spectators, or even to run a proper scoreboard. The only scoreboard in operation was a very basic small model, which the players were left to update every half hour or so, or whenever they felt like it. If the administrators regard first-class status so lightly, is it surprising that the players take the same disgraceful attitude?
On a grey morning, Midlands won the toss and, no doubt hoping for some swing under the cloudy skies, put Mashonaland in to bat. Both teams were weakened by the loss of Zimbabwe A players in Bangladesh, while Midlands suffered a serious blow with the absence of Raymond Price, who wasn’t well. Craig Wishart, Andy Blignaut and Stuart Carlisle were all missing from the match, nursing injuries.
Travis Friend wasn’t about to explore the possibilities of swing, as he lapsed into his old error of banging the ball in halfway down the pitch all the time. However, he did take the wicket of Erick Chauluka, who batted for 3 runs before skying an attempted hook, to be caught by the wicketkeeper jogging round to the leg-slip position; 18 for one.
The other opener, Dion Ebrahim, rarely looked in good form but survived to make 25 before being bowled by Ed Rainford. Two balls later Grant Flower, also not in touch, suffered an unlucky dismissal as he shouldered arms to Friend and the ball rebounded from his pads on to his leg stump. He made 11 and Mashonaland were 43 for three. The swing bowlers, especially Ervine, were finding the movement they hoped for, and in such conditions Zimbabwean batsmen tend to have a negative mindset.
Craig Evans is often at his most dangerous for Mashonaland in a tight spot, but this time he failed, aiming a hit across the line to Rainsford and being bowled without scoring; 46 for four. Ryan Butterworth joined Tatenda Taibu and the pair batted through almost until lunch. Taibu, unable to master the conditions like the other international players, as he made an unconvincing 13 before edging Sean Ervine to first slip just before lunch. His successor, Tafadwa Mufambisi, was yorked first ball, the last of the over, which meant that Ervine was on a hat-trick after the interval and Mashonaland were in trouble at 77 for six.
Ervine was deprived the chance of an immediate hat-trick as Nyasha Chari was given the ball after lunch, and he struck with his first ball. Butterworth, who had looked the most fluent batsman of the Mashonaland side to date – if any of them looked fluent at all – drove at a widish ball and sliced a catch to backward point, to depart for 19. Without addition new batsman David Mutendera was caught at the wicket in the same over, and Mashonaland had declined to 82 for eight.
Ervine changed ends and Douglas Hondo blocked out the hat-trick ball. Generally, though, ‘hit and hope’ seemed to be the policy. Hondo (1) lashed out at Chari and Conan Brewer at backward point took a superb diving catch to his right. Tinashe Ruswa, apparently forgetting it was against current team policy, executed a superb off-drive for four, but his other strokes were much less convincing, several uppish mishits evading the field or, in one instance, put down near the fine-leg boundary. The last pair took the score into three figures before last man Alexander Mlambo, who had still not scored, drove over a yorker from Ervine to be bowled.
Mashonaland were all out for 103, with the surprise bowling figures those of Chari, whose execution of the tail brought him three wickets for one run in five overs. Ervine took three for 31, with two wickets each to Friend and Rainsford. They had bowled well, but Mashonaland’s abysmal batting was the major factor in their failure.
Midlands looked little more fluent, with opener Terry Duffin spending a painful 17 minutes at the crease without scoring, before being caught in the slips off Mutendera; 18 for one. Mutendera, a former international player, has been in such poor bowling form in recent years that even his own club stopped using him, but he now showed considerable improvement, although there was still a high proportion of wild deliveries.
During the course of the afternoon the skies began to clear and the ball stopped swinging, showing what an important toss it had been to win. Brewer and Friend wisely set their sights on occupation of the crease and were still there at tea without any undue alarms. Afterwards they continued to score steadily at just over three an over without doing anything exciting, until Friend was caught in the slips off the perspiring Hondo for 39; 90 for two. Hondo was the only bowler to cause the batsmen any problems, bowling a long spell with accuracy and a little movement both in the air and off the pitch.
The fall of that wicket seemed to shake Midlands, who suddenly lost their assurance. Hondo began to reap his reward for his determination and persistence, as Brewer also fell in the slips for 41, and then Sean Ervine, without waiting to play himself in, slashed loosely at Hondo and was caught at the wicket without a run to his name. Midlands, at 101 for four, looked in danger of surrendering what should have become a major advantage.
Midlands’ chances of building a big lead evaporated as Marillier, who had hit an enterprising 24 off 27 balls, pulled Mutendera low and straight to midwicket, to reduce them to 116 for five. Craig Ervine played some good attacking strokes once he had settled, but lost Chari for 3, skying a catch into the covers; 133 for six. Ervine then clammed up before popping up a soft return catch to Flower, departing for 11.
Next to go in the sorry procession was Tinashe Chaeruka, backing up too eagerly for an unlikely single to midwicket and easily run out without scoring. But then Ed Rainford, who usually bats at eleven in a full-strength Midlands side, temporarily decided to raise himself above the pitiful level of batting evident during most of the day. Playing some powerful drives and pulls, he selected the deliveries well. But once again he did not last, undone by Taibu’s accurate line and length and edging a third catch to Ebrahim in the slips. He made 17 and Midlands were 152 for nine.
Last man Tapfumaneyi Mandizha (5) enjoyed a couple of pulls to leg before mistiming a third and giving midwicket the easiest of catches off Flower. So another sorry innings closed, and with the conditions easier there was even less excuse for Midlands than for Mashonaland. Presented with a great opportunity to defeat the champions, Midlands shamefully squandered their chances. Still, their lead of 54 might prove significant if the low scoring continues – but Mashonaland have a reputation for wasting their first innings and killing the opposition the second time round.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)