The Central Stags are keen to reload their guns after illness hit the bowling attack ahead of a crunch encounter with the Knights under lights.
Ben Wheeler was left back in the hotel for the night, Blair Tickner played despite being crook, Mahela Jayawardena had his first bowl in a T20 since 2010 and batsman Ben Smith was whistled back into the squad. It was less than ideal timing against a Knights unit stacked with BLACKCAPS Trent Boult, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Corey Anderson, Ish Sodhi, BJ Watling, not to mention Dean Brownlie and Tim Seifert — yet the Stags once again took the match to an edge-of-the-seat last-over finish as their star batsmen gallantly went after a big total.
Captain Will Young opted to field first at Seddon Park, but Brownlie got his side off to a healthy start with 36 from just 20 balls. Roll in contributions from fellow opener Watling (35 from 32), Corey Anderson (28 from 20), Daryl Mitchell (17 off nine), Scott Kuggeleijn (an unbeaten 23 from 10 at the death) and a big all-round night from Mitch Santner and a tally of 197 for five looked tough to beat against the Knights’ all-star attack.
Crisp Santner’s unbeaten 45 off 21 balls (with three fours and three sixes) was his T20 career best, and he backed it up with one for 12 off his three overs as the Knights critically shut down the Stags’ aggressive intent through the middle with their quality spin attack.
But the Stags’ batting is never to be underestimated, and few punters could have forgotten the masterclass given by Mahela Jayawardena at this same ground against the same side in last year’s competition.
Coming off a century at Pukekura Park, once again, the Sri Lankan superstar (the leading run-scorer this season) delighted as he turned it on at Seddon Park, reaching 64 from just 36 balls as the Stags built a solid opening reply of 84 without loss by the ninth over.
Trent Boult had earlier opened the attack with a superb first over that cost just two singles, but despite the Knights shuffling through their quality options trying to unsettle the opening combo, Jayawardena had a smooth answer for everything as he and George Worker (26 off 22) pushed them ahead on the comparison scores.
Jayawardena’s wicket was always going to be a huge moment, but after Santner broke through it triggered a quick double strike with Sodhi trapping Worker in the 10th. Santner had gone for just two runs off his successful over and then conceded just three singles in his next, pivotal overs in the big picture of the game.
The Stags weren’t done with Tom Bruce and Will Young at the crease, however.
Bruce punched Sodhi for a straight six that was so high it had snow on it, while Young pulled out some class blows of his own against his former NZ U19s team-mate. They shared a stand of 42 across 5.1 overs, ensuring the Stags kept on target.
It took a magic moment to dismiss the brutal Bruce, one of the top three run-scorers in the competition — Daryl Mitchell grabbing a catch right inside the rope before tossing it to Santner as he ploughed over the boundary.
That gave Tim Southee his first strike for the night and pace struck again next over when Dane Cleaver was trapped by Kuggeleijn.
At 152 for four with three overs to go it was still by no means over, with the muscle power of Josh Clarkson now at the crease. He helped slam 10 runs off Kuggeleijn, but Daryl Mitchell put the squeeze on in the 18th by conceding just singles.
The Stags’ equation was now 39 runs from 12 balls, Clarkson up against Trent Boult. The youngster stood up tall and almost casually flicked the BLACKCAP for a boundary off his legs, then booted him over the sightscreen and on to the adjacent bank for twin sixes: 18 runs off the over!
The equation for the 20th was on: 21 runs needed off six. But the slower-paced Mitchell proved himself a canny death weapon, the first two balls restricted to singles to force Will Young to take his chances. Young was caught next ball, meaning the Stags now needed a big 18 from three balls to force a Super Over.
The Stags have been in the thick of a run of exciting thrillers throughout the competition and, quite amazingly, had gone down by just one run in their previous world record-setting epic with the Volts, but this time it wasn’t to be as the Knights successfully closed out a tight 10-run win.
Billy Bowden's hat adjustment had the TV commentators in stitches!
The Central stars will be back in action on Boxing Day looking for a second win against the Firebirds at the Basin Reserve while the Knights head to the Mount to host the Auckland Aces on the 27th.