Harare Metropolitan Eagles – 212-9 in 50 overs (Elton Chigumbura 75, Joylord Gumbie 25, Tapiwa Mufudza 24; John Nyumbu 3/29, Stephen Chimhamhiwa 2/40, Chris Mpofu 2/45)
Bulawayo Metropolitan Tuskers – 196 all out in 45.1 overs (Chris Mpofu 41, Stephen Chimhamhiwa 31, Ernest Masuku 24; Tapiwa Mufudza 3/25, Brighton Zhawi 3/42, Tanyaradzwa Munyaradzi 2/31)
Harare Metropolitan Eagles kept themselves in contention for the Pro50 Championship with a 16-run victory over Bulawayo Metropolitan Tuskers at Harare Sports Club on Wednesday.
Both teams will probably admit they did not play their best cricket in this match, but the outstanding performance of the day was the innings of 75by Elton Chigumbura that ultimately proved decisive for the Eagles.
Not far behind, though, was the gallant batting of Tuskers tail-enders Chris Mpofu andZaheer Muhammad that took them within sight of victory again when all hope had seemed lost.
As Manicaland Mountaineers have a bye this round, it was an important match for Tuskers to win, as victory would have taken them to the top of the table.
For Eagles, defeat would probably have meant the end of their chances of winning this tournament.
Tuskers again won the toss and kept to their policy of putting their opponents in to bat first.
Chamu Chibhabha and Zaheer Muhammad opened the batting for Eagles against the bowling of Mpofu and Chimhamhiwa.
Muhammad departed without scoring in Mpofu’s second over, as he tried to pull a short ball but only skyed a catch to midwicket; five for one.
The bowlers kept a tight line and length, and Chibhabha never really got to terms with the attack; with the total at 17 in the eighth over, he drove a low catch to mid-on and departed for 10.
This brought together two inexperienced batsmen in Bright Njanji and Larvet Masunda, with five Pro50 matches between them in their careers.
Njanji struggled badly for runs, and had managed just one run off 26 balls when he tried a desperate pull against a short ball from Ernest Masuku and top-edged a catch to the leaping wicketkeeper, Shoun Handirisi; 22 for three after 11 overs.
Masunda briefly looked ready to score more quickly, but after making 12 off 20 balls he was stumped off John Nyumbu; 38 for four in the 16th over.
This brought in Chigumbura to join Joylord Gumbie in a difficult situation for the team.
They looked comfortable from the start, and in the 21st over Chigumbura drove Mpofu for six over long-off — remarkably, this was the first boundary of the match, which he followed up with two fours later in the over.
The momentum was changing and the pair looked quite capable of turning the innings around completely.
However, Gumbie did not stay the course, as after making 25 off 50 balls he drove a ball from Nyumbu back gently to the bowler, who took a catch off his bootlaces; 93 for five in the 28th over.
Liam Roche settled in well with Chigumbura, who reached his fifty off 55 balls.
Roche enjoyed a life on 18, when the fine-leg fielder failed to hold a lofted stroke, but in the next over he was bowled for 19 off 25 balls by a good ball from Ainsley Ndlovu.
The partnership had added 52 off exactly 52 balls, the score now being 145 for six in the 37th over.
Brighton Zhawi scored a single before he was given out caught at the wicket slashing at a ball from Nyumbu outside the off stump.
Tapiwa Mufudza did a useful job assisting Chigumbura, who seemed to lose some of his fluency at this stage.
Chigumbura finally fell for 75, scored off 92 balls, as he pulled a ball from Mpofu to the fielder on the midwicket boundary.
Eagles were now 184 for eight in the 48th over, and it seemed they would do well if they reached 200 with only the tail-enders left.
But, helped by some wayward bowling, they did so, though in the final over Chimhamhiwa dismissed Mufudza lbw for a very useful 24; 207 for nine.
The final total was 212 for nine wickets, with Tanyaradzwa Munyaradzi unbeaten on 24 and Dean Mazhawidza on four.
Nyumbu was the best of the bowlers, taking three wickets for only 29 runs in his 10 overs, while Mpofu and Chimhamhiwa had two wickets each.
The Tuskers fielding was not as good as it had been against Rising Stars, when several brilliant catches were taken, but this time several chances were missed in the field.
Tuskers opened their batting with Handirisi and Cunningham Ncube, neither of whom has yet exceeded 20 in Pro50 matches, against the bowling of Munyaradzi and Zhawi.
Handirisi went for nine, too late on the pull against Munyaradzi, and he skyed a simple catch that was taken by the bowler.
Ncube likewise failed to reach 20, having only nine to his credit when Zhawi produced a fine delivery that went right through his defence and bowled him; 26 for two in the eighth over.
Tuskers sank further into trouble when a mix-up over a quick single led to Richmond Mutumbami being run out for seven; 33 for three after nine overs.
Craig Ervine now came in to join Brian Chari, the last two recognised and experienced batsmen in the team together for what was likely to be the crucial partnership, one way or the other.
Chari did not last long, popping up a simple catch to midwicket off Zhawi after scoring 19, and Tuskers were in deep trouble at 48 for four in the 12th over.
This became 57 for five in the 16th over as Allan Chigoma (4) edged Mufudza’s first ball of the match low to slip.
When Ervine had 11 he was dropped at midwicket as he tried to pull a short ball from Mazhawidza.
It did not prove too expensive, though, as at 23 he sliced a catch to backward point off Mufudza, and that ended Tuskers’ hopes as the score slid to 91 for six in the 28th over.
Masuku joined Mpofu and decided to hit out, soon being dropped at mid-off, and scored 24 off 24 balls before sweeping a ball from Mufudza to be caught at backward square leg; 127 for seven.
Nyumbu scored a brisk 14 before being caught at backward point off Njanji.
Mpofu was playing a determined innings, and it is a surprising fact that he had scored 27 runs off 68 balls before he hit his first boundary, a mow over midwicket off Roche for six.
Chimhamhiwa was in with him, and he hit out boldly, so much so that as the score mounted Tuskers began to get a glimmer of hope for a startling victory.
It reached the stage where Tuskers needed 21 to win off the last six overs, with two wickets in hand.
Finally, with the score at 196, Zhawi produced a fine delivery that bowled Chimhamhiwa for a gallant innings of 31 off 30 balls, leaving Mpofu and the last man Ndlovu to score 17 runs in five overs for victory.
However, the loss of his partner seemed to disturb Mpofu, who, to the next ball he faced, from Munyaradzi, forsook his careful measured play and swung across the line, to be trapped lbw for 41, a sad ending to a remarkable innings that lasted 81 balls and contained only one boundary, his six.
Eagles, who at one stage had perhaps been taking victory for granted, were jubilant to win in what became a tense finish.
Of the bowlers, there were three wickets each to Zhawi and Mufudza, the latter conceding only 25 runs in his 10 overs, and two to Munyaradzi.