Defending champions the SKYCITY Northern Knights made sure of joining the Mondiale Auckland Aces and Mighty Ape Wellington Firebirds for the finals shootout next weekend only after preventing a late charge from the Devon Hotel Central Stags, in a thriller that saw the men in pink squeeze in by two runs.
Having chosen to bat first, the Knights’149-2 was propped up by pro Travis Birt —who slaughtered an unbeaten 69 from 44 balls after having arrived at the crease in the eighth over. After an aggressive start from Daniel Flynn had been undone by a plumb lbw from spinner Ajaz Patel, followed by the dismissal of fellow opener Mitch Santner, Birt had barely revved up when a rarely seen interruption saw players leave the field for sunstrike as a big Napier sunset dropped behind the sightscreen.
When play resumed 12 minutes later, Birt and Brad Wilson took themselves through to a 50-run partnership off 54 balls, before Birt turned it up at the death with a string of spectacular sixes —including a huge smash onto the roof of the Harris Stand. In the process he shattered the figures of Ben Wheeler and Bevan Small, the unbeaten 100-run stand with support act Wilson arriving off the last ball of the innings.
A total of 149 was nevertheless some way shy of par, and the Stags were able to set off on their chase with confidence. Needing an RPO of 7.50, the early loss of an out of sorts Greg Hay didn’t seem to perturb George Worker, who rustled up a 50-run partnership with Will Young off 44 balls. But when speedster Ben Laughlin, rejoining the Knights from Australia, won a shout against Young, the Stags started losing their edge.
Kruger van Wyk survived on three as whippy work from young keeper Tim Seifert was referred upstairs —the tightest of calls giving van Wyk a life. But the score had advanced by just two runs before he referred a second time, this time sending him back to the sheds. When Scott Kuggeleijn took a good, low catch in the deep to remove David Meiring off Anurag Verma, the in-form Worker recognised the pressure was on to step up and drive it home.
The Stags needed 40 off the last three overs, with Worker passing 50 shortly afterwards; then 20 off the last over —entrusted to spinner Jono Boult. A boundary off the second ball kept Stags Nation chins up, but Worker’s lusty six off the final delivery was not enough to force a super over. He had carried his bat for the second game in a row, but Worker’s unbeaten 78 off 59 now left him with that sinking feeling as the Stags’late run for the finals was over.