The hero in the end was Andrew Hall, who followed a fine innings with some superb death bowling that proved too much for Rhinos, who at one stage had been cruising to victory. A couple of careless strokes and some panic threw away a good advantage and they were left to rue the fallibilities of mind that cost them the trophy. Commendably the Mash Eagles had a phenomenal return from what seemed to be their second Stanbic Bank 20 series final without any silverware.
Mash Eagles had the good fortune to win the toss and were therefore able to bat first in good conditions. Rhinos started well, having the big-hitting
Cephas Zhuwawo very well caught by deep square leg Gary Ballance for 1 in the first over, but then came the crucial partnership of 85 between Nick
Compton and Prince Masvaure. They wisely played themselves in and then began to attack; at ten overs the score was 68 for one, about par for the
course in this tournament. Shortly afterwards Compton reached his fifty off 43 balls. Masvaure was finally caught off a lofted drive for 32 off 30
balls, a fine effort by a player who has not had much success recently but was still entrusted with the number three position.
This began a minor collapse that swung the balance temporarily in favour of Rhinos. There was some fine catching, and then came the run-out of Compton, which could have proved fatal to Eagles. He had a mix-up with Forster Mutizwa, both batsmen finishing at the same end, and it appeared to be
Compton’s fault. As he had been batting so well, it would have been a sporting gesture had Mutizwa run through and sacrificed himself for the good
of his team, but he declined. Compton departed for 74 off 55 balls (4 fours, 3 sixes), and his team were now in some trouble at 116 for six in the
Typically, Hall came to the rescue. He kept the score moving and then, off the final poor over of the innings from Paul Franks – who did at least
finish with two dot balls – hit 22 runs, not counting a no-ball. Was this to be the over that cost Rhinos the match? Hall finished with 39 not out
off 17 balls. This enabled Eagles to finish with 167 for seven, not an impossible target but one which gave Eagles the advantage, especially
considering the tension of a final. Malcolm Waller took two wickets, while Ed Rainsford and Brendan Taylor were the most economical bowlers.
In front of a crowd probably similar in number to the previous season’s seven to eight thousand, Rhinos made a confident start. Taylor produced
most of the early strokeplay, as usual, until he chipped a fairly simple catch to mid-on and departed for 27 off 16 balls. Gary Ballance continued
the job with Sibanda until he was run out for 20 by a good throw from Masvaure; 60 for two after seven overs.
This brought together the two heroes of the semi-final, Sibanda and Vincent, and from the start they looked totally confident of taking their team home
to victory. Sibanda in particular appeared to be right back in his best form, batting with class and assurance, making the bowling look easy. After
ten overs the score was 90 for two, well ahead of the 68 Eagles had produced at a similar stage. But having looked so good, Sibanda threw his wicket
away to a catch on the midwicket boundary for 46, scored off 30 balls.
Rhinos were now 122 for three in the 15th over, and the stand had realized 62 in just over seven overs. Little did Rhinos know it, but this was the
turning point of the match.
Once again, though, an unnecessary wicket led to a collapse. Solomon Mire was bowled for 3, heaving at a ball from Raymond Price, and then Rikki
Wessels ran himself out first ball. With five down, 29 were needed off the last three overs – Hall to bowl two of them; the odds favoured Eagles again.
Vincent was now the key man for Rhinos, but he drove a hard low catch to long-off and was gone for 39. However Waller batted superbly in this
crisis, leaving seven to win off Hall’s final over, with three wickets left.
It was just too much, and Rhinos in the end lost by one run a match they should have won. Hall finished with figures of none for 27; only T20
cricket can produce such an anomaly for the bowler who won the match.
Waller, with 20 not out off 10 balls, deserved better, but the fault lay further up the order.