SKYCITY Northern Knights 124-5 (Daryl Mitchell 36, Grant Elliott 2-20) lost to Mighty Ape Wellington Firebirds 125-2 in 16.1 overs (Michael Papps 65, Stephen Murdoch 35*) by eight wickets at Seddon Park, Hamilton.
A tightly executed bowling plan set up a shock eight-wicket drubbing as the Mighty Ape Wellington Firebirds pushed aside top qualifiers the SKYCITY Northern Knights in the first Georgie Pie Super Smash 2014 Final. While the Knights have a second life today to make Sunday’s Grand Final, there were pink shivers around Seddon Park following the ease of the Firebirds’ classy victory, which arrived with almost four overs to spare.
The Firebirds had restricted —throttled, even —the Knights’ line-up to 124-5, the use of spinner Jeet Patel upfront paying quick dividends with the early wicket of Brad Wilson, after the opening batsman had found the boundary off Brent Arnel’s first ball of the match.
Again the Knights pushed young Tim Seifert up to first drop, but this time it backfired big-time after a calling calamity saw big-hitter Travis Pro run out for just two. The mistake seemed to throw Seifert, whose leg pole went flying shortly afterwards. Captain Daniel Flynn was already back in the hutch after having been caught off Grant Elliott’s previous over —Brad Hodge juggling the ball three times before finally getting his palm under the ball to stop the aggressive captain.
That left the Knights teetering at the halfway mark on 51-4, having lost three wickets in as many overs and hungering to find the rope more often. Firebirds veterans Luke Woodcock, Patel and Elliott continued the squeeze against Ireland international Kevin O’Brien —the Knights’ newly minted pro fresh off the plane from the northern hemisphere. After O’Brien fatefully reached for one off Woodcock to provide Hodge with his second catch of the night, in-form Daryl Mitchell led a rally at the death. Yet even three consecutive boundaries off death guru Dane Hutchinson’s final three deliveries was hardly enough to quell excitement in the Firebirds’camp at halftime.
The Firebirds had had no hesitation electing to bowl on an overcast evening that delivered good hoop for the pace attack, but also biting turn for their on-song spinners. The Knights had to likewise reach for a flawless bowling performance to stay in the game. A fiery Kuggeleijn started well, with a strong shout against Michael Pollard, the ball nipping in. Spinner Mitchell Santner opened at the other end and produced a standout exhibition of flight and calm control, going for just nine runs off his allottment of four —four of those coming off his last over, by which time Stephen Murdoch and Michael Papps were ebulliently coasting home.
Bar some outstanding stops at point from Flynn, and the riveting aggression of their three-prong spin attack —which included returning BLACKCAP Ish Sodhi, nothing much else went right for the Knights, with the killer over being a 26-run feast off Kuggeleijn’s second over, as Papps blasted back to back sixes, three fours and a two.
Quickly manoevring his team into a commanding position, Papps reached his half-century off just 32 balls and shared a 68-run stand for the second wicket with an ultimately unbeaten Stephen Murdoch. The Knights must now beat third qualifiers the Mondiale Auckland Aces today in the same arena to retain hope of defending their title.