Ford Trophy Grand Finals bring out the best in the best. Last summer it was soon-to-be BLACKCAP Tom Bruce slaying the fastest fifty in New Zealand List A history to help win the Grand Final. This season, Canterbury legend Peter Fulton stood taller than ever with a sensational record ton flying off 50 balls in the biggest one-day match of the domestic summer.
As he swung hard and fearlessly, the sixes splattered onto the parched banks and into the sightscreens at Rangiora’s misty Mainpower Oval as Fulton went big in a Grand Final that had been effectively converted to a Twenty20 after drizzle wrote off the best part of the day.
The covers had been on until the mid-afternoon, and that was enough to make all Cantabrians nervous — no play would have meant that the trophy would have reverted to the Wellington Firebirds as the top qualifier after the regular season.
There was only one way for Canterbury to break their 11-year title drought and that was on the park. No one had forgotten the pain of the previous season, either, when they had made the 2016 Grand Final only to be hit out of the park by the ballistic Central Stags. Canterbury captain Andrew Ellis didn’t want a repeat of that hollow feeling at Pukekura Park — where he awkwardly celebrated his maiden Ford Trophy century in a doomed chase.
This time, 38-year-old Fulton would be the Canterbury stalwart raising his bat — the sight of the big man leaping into the air came first, after he had successfully launched a torrid assault on the visiting Firebirds.
It was the third match between these two at the business end of the comp, so they were well used to each other’s game plans. The last round of the season had cemented the Firebirds as number one qualifier, but Canterbury won the 1v2 Qualifier at Hagley Oval to snare a home Grand Final out at their country ground, with Hagley Oval now getting ready to host the BLACKCAPS.
The Firebirds had meanwhile had to overcome the hard-fighting Stags a few days earlier in the Elimination Final and, while they kept themselves in the Grand Final chase for a period, ultimately the Rangiora scorecard read as one bridge too far for their smashing line-up after Todd Astle’s wrong ’uns claimed two big wickets in one key over, stopping Hamish Marshall on 59 and then getting the big finisher Matt Taylor for a duck after the big-hitter tried to slog him point blank.
By contrast, once Fulton got in, he just kept going bigger. He came in during the sixth over at 32/2 and never left. It was a storybook day as the tower of the Canterbury game, rumoured to be in his last season, reached his career best when it mattered most, having spent 11 years watching his side bow out empty-handed.
“I got to about 70 or 80 and thought, ‘Jeez, I’m doing all right here’”, said the former captain, “so I just kept swinging as hard as I could, and luckily most of them were hitting the middle of the bat.”
It was a heck of a time for Fulton to surge into his best form, having had a stop-start kind of season with the bat. It was his first List A century since 2010/11, his fourth overall and third in the red and black kit, in his 113th game for Canterbury.
He slammed Anurag Verma — one of the leading bowlers of the season, finishing equal with teammate Hamish Bennett as the season's second to top wicket-taker, behind ND's Scott Kuggeleijn — for three sixes in a row in the 16th over, 25 runs in all flowing from it as the drought broke in more ways than one.
It should be mentioned that, throughout all of this, Brent Arnel had been sitting on incongruously lean figures of 0-1 off two overs, having opened with a maiden. Now he came back on and took a wicket first ball. Veterans standing up all over the place.
The game hadn’t started until 4.30pm, the banks still damp in the steamy sun; then mist returned in the second innings, then the lightest of rain and the threat of bad light.
Somehow, they got through it all. Hamish Marshall had won the toss and opted to bowl, but Rangiora proved that even on an iffy-weather day it could serve up a beaut of a Grand Final batting track.
Henry Nicholls (31 off 25) was Fulton’s partner in their matchwinning stand of 117 runs, both players from the local Canterbury Country clubrooms — for several of the team and wider squad, this was home turf, Fulton hailing from nearby Oxford.
Cracking Nicholls departed in the 17th over at 149/3, then Fulton shared another super quick unbroken 50-run stand with Tim Johnston, the pair operating at a run rate above 13 per over, strike rates of 200 each, with Fulton reaching three figures in the 18th. Local lads having a blast.
The experienced Firebirds had responded in the best possible fashion to taunts that they were “Dad’s Army” as they got up and won the McDonald’s Super Smash, however now they were up against a team itself built around a core of solid experience.
Fulton had 180 List A caps in all. Todd Astle 52. Ellis, who took 4 for 28, reasserted himself as a white ball force, broken thumb and all. They were the big men who knew how to stand up under pressure, and lead from the front.
Around them were bunch of younger talents who believed this was their time. Towering young pace weapon Kyle Jamieson was back from injury at last. It was all coming together at the right end of the season, and it would be the Canterbury old guard doing it against the army.
Fulton would walk off at halftime to a standing ovation, unbeaten on 116. He had blasted more than half the total: 199 for three, meaning the Firebirds needed 200 in what was effectively a Twenty20 match, reduced to that by the morning’s weather.
Captain Hamish Marshall (below) looked to lead the way for his team once more and calmly underpinned an exciting 59-run stand with Tom Blundell (above) for the second wicket. They ripped 23 off the fourth over, attacking the big target early lest it get away on them, and Marshall's 50 came off just 20 balls.
They had been the big hope after the setback of losing power-packed Michael Papps (like Astle, in his 50th List A match) early, caught at mid-on early in the chase. They gave their side a great chance galloping along at more than 12 an over before the Canterbury spinners made a dramatic impact.
Veterans Luke Woodcock and Jeetan Patel would provide the next best Birds stand at the close, but by then the situation was desperate — and they were without the power hitting of Tom Blundell or Taylor to complement Woodcock’s experienced closing. They didn’t go down without a fight, but Ellis and Jamieson deftly made the slower balls do the business.
Eleven years ago, when Canterbury last won a one-day trophy, Ellis was the 12th man. In 2017 he was the top wicket-taker, had just taken his 100th List A wicket (Verma) in his 110th List A match and was able to hold the trophy aloft as the winning captain, taking out the Grand Final by 28 runs.
Amy Satterthwaite’s Canterbury Magicians had won the women’s 2017 One-Day title for Canterbury a week earlier at Hagley Oval, Frances Mackay playing with a broken thumb. Now Andrew Ellis had made it the Canterbury double. It might be a stretch to think there could be luck in broken thumbs, but there was certainly a good story as the fairytale ending came to be. The locals just loved it.