Wellington Firebirds 244/7 (Pollard 40, Murdoch 64, Blundell 53, Gibson 42; Mathieson 3-51) beat Devon Hotel Central Stags, 222 in 47.3 overs (van Wyk 60, Cleaver 36, Small 37; McEwan 4-41 off 7.3) by 22 runs.
The Devon Hotel Central Stags could be forgiven for thinking they were watching Groundhog Day at the Basin Reserve. General run machine George Worker had got out for his second duck in a row. None of the top four had made runs to speak of. And now Kruger van Wyk was out there gritting his teeth again, looking to rescue his team from impending doom.
When he raised his bat for the 50 — just days after stamping his maiden List A hundred in near-identical circumstances, it really started to feel uncanny. After 137 List A matches, what were the chances of the little nugget going from zero to two Ford Trophy centuries in the space of a week?
Unfortunately for the Central men, it didn’t quite pan out that way this time, while the Wellington Firebirds rejoiced in only their second one-day win of the season — ending a tough campaign on a good note.
There was still discomfort, naturally, for the ousted defending champions, well out of the top four. That cold hard fact had seen changes wrought upon the eleven for the last game, young players Jamie Gibson and Peter Younghusband given a crack and making their List A debuts together.
Opening batsman BJ Barnett was meanwhile playing only his second match. Leading wicket-taker Brent Arnel was on the sidelines serving drinks, while captain James Franklin not only didn’t bowl, but opted not to bat in this game, either — perhaps due to the physical after-effects of scoring a century in the previous game while carrying an injury.
There was no need, since the team got through to a useful 244/7 on a battle-scarred wicket after he’d won the toss and batted. The experience of Michael Pollard (a patient 40) and Stephen Murdoch (63) laid a platform that allowed the likes of Tom Blundell, Gibson and regular performer Alecz Day to swing their bats a little more freely — until Stags paceman Andy Mathieson galloped in and put himself on a hat-trick by bowling Day and Younghusband back to back. It was followed up in rather anticlimactic fashion with a leg bye.
With a tally on the board, the Firebirds’ bowlers played like they had nothing to lose. Matt McEwan, a new face this season for the team, got off to a brilliant beginning with his double wicket maiden — including the valuable wicket of Worker, who spooned it to mid-on.
When the bustling competitor Dane Hutchinson took care of Jamie How lbw soon after, the Stags were staring at 15/3 on the scoreboard and a ditto day. Kieran Noema-Barnett became Gibson’s first Ford Trophy wicket: 47/5.
Enter van Wyk, again. He ground it out with young Dane Cleaver in support for much of his innings, then Doug Bracewell — who came in just before van Wyk raised his 50 off 70 balls.
Bracewell played his natural striking game and thumped the first two sixes of the Stags innings, before he was bowled by Luke Woodcock — the Firebirds veteran celebrating his 100th List A appearance. By then, van Wyk had been lost at 157/8, nicking out, yet he had got the Stags from a dire situation to one where victory was not Mission Impossible.
With just over 10 overs to go, Bevan Small and Marty Kain, both new at the crease, were handed a chase of just over eight an over, and Small in particular aspired to that challenge as they conjured another 60-odd runs between them at better than run-a-ball pace. But at eight down there was also little margin for error and when Woodcock struck again, nicking out Small, the Stags’ green backs were against the wall.
The top team fell against the cellar dwellers for only their second loss of the season — and a loss is a loss, even if the eventual 22-run margin was much slimmer than the Firebirds would have predicted earlier in the innings. Consolation for the Stags? They finished the regular season in top spot regardless, after their immediate chasers on the points table, the Mondiale Auckland Aces, also stumbled against the SKYCITY Northern Knights.