Firebirds running hot

Video Highlights




Saxton Oval, Nelson

28-31 October, 2023



First innings points:

Central Stags 4

Wellington Firebirds 5


Total points this round:

Central Stags 4

Wellington Firebirds 17



Greg Hay: 100th first-class match

Ajaz Patel: 250 first-class wickets for Central Stags

James Hartshorn career-best bowling (7-2-17-4)

James Hartshorn took his first four-fa in the first-class game | PHOTOSPORT


In a match between two first-round winners, the stakes were high at Saxton Oval. Central Stags captain Greg Hay headed out onto his home ground in his 100th first-class match (98th for the Stags, with two New Zealand A appearances in the mix), but lost the toss. Little went his way after that against the Stags' bogey team, the Wellington Firebirds, who dismissed the Stags twice to stay undefeated.


Wellington Firebirds captain Nick Kelly elected to bat first on a crisp but sunny Nelson morning that had seen ice sprinkled across the covers and field when the groundsmen had arrived earlier that morning, and a fresh layer of snow on the lilac Richmond Ranges.


At first, that decision may have come under question as the Stags quickly knocked off the top order.

Ageless Doug Bracewell led the strong attack with another match in which he hit his straps immediately, removing both openers for nought and two respectively.

Josh Clarkson appeals successfully in his first over | PHOTOSPORT

By lunch, the Firebirds had quasi-recovered for 101/4, but they would be all out by tea in just 63.1 overs, Ray Toole impressing with a three-for.

The Stags now needed just 202 for a first-innings lead, but a nippy performance with the ball from the visitors would see that initial target grow ever more distant.

Fresh off the first century of the season in Auckland, Greg Hay came back down to Earth with a thud. This time there would be no solid start at the top for the Stags, who were coming off an innings victory, as Hay and opening partner Jack Boyle were both dismissed caught behind for just two runs apiece.

Brad Schmulian, at one of his favoured grounds, got a start, but the Firebirds had the Stags in all sorts at 92/7 by stumps. The writing was already on the wall that this was a match that would not go the distance.

Peter Younghusband strikes | PHOTOSPORT


After the carnage of the previous afternoon, the Stags resumed at 92/7 with their lower order players in for a long, hard day - with both bat and ball, and a big effort needed from local Nelson rep Josh Clarkson.

The sun shining brilliantly once again, both Clarkson and the tail adding valuable runs. Brett Randell top-scored with 40 at nine, and Blair Tickner batted in support for almost an hour and a half for his unbeaten 15*.

The hosts pared down the Firebirds' first-innings lead to 32 runs before allrounder Nathan Smith snared the last couple of wickets at 169 all out in 64.1 overs - tit for tat.

The return of Nathan Smith | PHOTOSPORT

He had earlier been responsible for a pinpoint runout throw that removed the last genuine batting threat in Clarkson at 127/8, shattering his stumps with just one to aim at, and big Clarkson just a fraction out of his ground.

Relishing being back in the thick of the action after his lengthy injury layoff last season, Smith had impressed with 4/34, while Michael Snedden contributed a three-for before the Firebirds began their second innings on the other side of lunch.

Captain Nick Kelly already had a strong record against Central. Against every other team, he averages from 19.06 to 39.50. Against the Stags, he averaged 61.33, including two hundreds.

Firebirds captain Nick Kelly | PHOTOSPORT

He would be cued up for another on a pleasant afternoon for batting, on a deck that now had feathers in it and the late October sun still beating down. A good catch from Tom Bruce brought the first Firebirds wicket in the eighth over, and before too long, both openers had gone at 51/2.

From there, however, the Stags were in for a long afternoon of toil. The ever-patient Gareth Severin (77 not out by stumps) and the more tempestuous Kelly - digging out back foot drives and wheeling into his signature pull shots to the boundary - put on 155 for the third wicket.

But just as Kelly was within a whisker of a third century at the expense of the Stags, Randell got one to nip back in and Kelly's stint was over on 98.

Brett Randell stops Kelly on 98 | PHOTOSPORT

Still, a 265-run overall lead with seven wickets in hand by stumps - and two days left to play in the well-advanced match - will have taken some of the sting off for the visiting captain.


On an overcast third morning, Severin departed almost immediately without adding to his overnight score as Blair Tickner made the first breakthrough of the day.

The Stags' attack rallied behind him and now, after the hard toil of the previous afternoon, they raced through their work. The pace pair of Doug Bracewell and Brett Randell finished with a tidy three wickets each and Ajaz Patel chimed in with a brace as the hosts stemmed the damage somewhat, wrapping up the second innings on 324, shortly after lunch.

Ajaz Patel has a good all-round game | PHOTOSPORT

The Firebirds had squandered an opportunity to bat through the day to put themselves in a formidable position. Nevertheless, they had an overall lead of 356 against a team that must have been feeling the heat after a lacklustre first innings effort.

It was déjà vu.

The Stags soon found themselves seven down with no real starts, while Dane Cleaver desperately looked for someone to bat with. Smith had nibbled out two big wickets in Hay and Schmulian, while James Hartshorn seared the middle order with a career-best performance as they found some movement.

A Hartshorn career-best | PHOTOSPORT

The paceman had headed into the match with just 12 first-class wickets from seven matches, with a best of 3/63. Now he had his father's former team in tatters.

After removing dangerman Tom Bruce (26) at the end of the 31st over, he put himself on a hat-trick opportunity by getting Josh Clarkson caught behind off the first ball of the 33rd.

Bracewell avoided becoming a hat-trick victim with an ungainly boundary, but Hartshorn would strike again the very next ball to have the Stags 100/6 and on the ropes.

Hartshorn wasn't done. When he dismissed Brett Randell, he had his fourth: Bruce, Bracewell and Randell all bowled. Dane Cleaver and Ajaz Patel put up a fight, Patel dismissed on the cusp of what would have been his third half century.

But after Cleaver's dismissal in the extra half hour, the Firebirds had all but done the job, finishing off the match shortly before 7pm with a day to spare.

Jubilation for the Firebirds | PHOTOSPORT

The Stags now head to Dunedin's Uni Oval to visit the Volts in round three, while the Firebirds return to the Cello Basin Reserve to host early formhorse Northern Districts - both games starting on Monday, 6 November and free admission.






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