Matabeleland Tuskers are the new Logan Cup cricket champions.
Depleted, without five of their key players, they beat a Mountaineers side that had gone unbeaten this season by 18 runs, a remarkable achievement at Mutare Sports Club on Saturday.
The key factor was their steadily improving swing bowler Keegan Meth, who has finished the season with 54 first-class wickets at an average of just 13.31.
Impressive with his deceptive swerve and accuracy, he has also had decent returns in both the domestic 40 overs and Twenty20 competitions. In this match he took 13 wickets at a cost of only 109 runs, as well as scoring a vital 65 in Tuskers’ second innings, in a truly inspirational all-round performance.
Mountaineers began the day requiring a further 148 runs, with eight wickets in hand, and it was clear at the start of the day that the result of the match would most likely hinge on the result of the battle between Hamilton Masakadza and Meth, and Meth won it convincingly.
Masakadza off-drove a single off Keith Dabengwa in the second over of the day to take the home side’s total to 100, and put him on strike for Meth’s next over.
He pushed fatally outside the off stump, edged a catch to the wicketkeeper and departed for 14 to scenes of jubilation from the fielders – indeed Tuskers were once again somewhat excessively noisy in the field, especially early on.
The experienced South African Jon Beukes added 16 confident runs off 14 balls, with three fours, but he was then given out lbw on the front foot to Meth, and the middle order then surrendered meekly.
Donald Tiripano, the nightwatchman, had held an end up grimly for almost an hour, but edged a low catch to second slip off Meth to depart for 5 off 42 balls.
Prosper Utseya, who has often been a man for a crisis in the past, was this time another lbw victim to Meth for a single, and Benjamin Katsande lasted only three balls before edging to the keeper.
After a middle-order collapse in which four wickets fell for seven runs in just four overs, Mountaineers had slipped to 125 for 7.
Meth began to tire but was kept on in the hope was taking the decisive wickets, but Timycen Maruma and Shingi Masakadza kept him out with some defiant batting and started to attack Dabengwa, who had been blocking up the other end.
Dabengwa, Tuskers’ stand-in captain for this game in the absence of the injured Gavin Ewing, was faced with the dilemma of whether to continue with Meth or rest him, but just as the time for a decision imminent Meth struck again.
Shingi Masakadza had been trying to counter his movement and upset his length by going down the pitch to him, which brought the keeper up to the stumps; the batsman did it once too often and was stumped for 17 to reduce Mountaineers to 155 for 8.
Maruma decided to take advantage of the wearied bowler, now in his eleventh over, smiting him for two mighty leg-side sixes in succession.
In the meantime Dabengwa gave way to Chris Mpofu, but Tendai Chatara gave Maruma unexpected support, with five well-selected boundary hits off the fast bowler.
They survived until lunch, and then Tawanda Mupariwa replaced the exhausted Meth. He quickly produced a rising ball that Maruma, on 36, edged at an awkward throat height to the keeper, who dropped it.
After two overs from Mupariwa, Dabengwa brought back Meth, but he no longer had the power to terrorize and the batsmen were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over comfortably and get within 50 runs of their target.
When Maruma reached an admirable fifty, only another 24 runs were needed to win. But, tragically, a mix-up between the batsmen led to his being run out for 51 and the fighting partnership of 69 was ended.
Natsai Mushangwe tried to hit out, but was caught in the outfield off Mpofu and the Logan Cup went to Matabeleland Tuskers.