CENTRAL STAGS v WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS
Bert Sutcliffe Oval
18 November 2018
Result: Central Stags won by 7 runs (DLS)
Jakob Bhula 99 highest List A score (previous best 15)
Greg Hay 1000 List A runs
Andrew Fletcher passed Michael Papps's Wellington Ford Trophy record of 609 runs in one season when his score reached 59
Willem Ludick 46 highest List A score (previous 26)
Sent in on a placid, warm Bert Sutcliffe Oval morning and needing a bonus point victory to say in contention, the Central Stags set the Firebirds an initial chase of 280 after captain Tom Bruce (87) and opening batsman Greg Hay (83) resuscitated the Stags’ innings from 26 for two.
Big Firebirds paceman Iain McPeake had been sitting on fine figures of 2-3 off 3.1 overs in his opening spell, removing youngsters Dean Foxcroft and makeshift opening batsman Christian Leopard, who hadn't come off at the top of the order since having moved up to fill in for Ben Smith (broken finger).
Cue the senior Stags stepping in and the Hay-Bruce duo piling on a vital 145-run stand, just three runs shy of the third wicket record between the two sides.
Seldom sighted Firebirds leggie Peter Younghusband had meanwhile toiled away for seven overs without reward, but always looked a good chance of picking up wickets before finally breaking through when he had Bruce caught by Sears on the rope in the 33rd over.
Hay was on 62* at the time, and the war-horse was now joined by youngster Josh Clarkson coming off a century in the previous round on the same ground. This time Clarkson would miss out, however, a metaphor for the Stags' up and down campaign, with half the fresh side under 21.
However, one of those 21-year-olds, allrounder Willem Ludick, fledged a new partnership with Hay, who had looked on course for his elusive maiden century before Hamish Bennett had him caught after a patient 83 as the Firebirds captain came back for his last spell.
With support from Ben Wheeler, Ludick narrowly missed out on a maiden half century when Jimmy Neesham (3-44) had him caught after a brisk 46, the first of a flurry of four wickets in 13 balls that halted the Stags’ total at 279 in the final over.
The Firebirds' timely breakthroughs stopped the Stags kicking on in the last 15 overs. Neesham claimed the final two wickets off his first two deliveries of the 50th to have them all out.
A sharp southerly change during the lunch interval literally threw a cloud over the Firebirds’ chase as the morning’s sunshine disappeared behind a thick bank of thunderclouds.
The thunderstorm halted play simultaneously on both grounds at Lincoln, the Firebirds 24 for no loss during the first powerplay after 7.2 overs.
It was the first rain break, but not the last as a southerly blast arrived with a vengeance later in the innings. By then, rookie run machine Andrew Fletcher had reached his third half century of the competition (to go with three centuries), also breaking the Firebirds’ record for most runs in a List A season (with a match to spare, in the regular season).
He was denied a record fourth ton, caught off young off-spinner Felix Murray on 59. Nevertheless, it took his Ford Trophy tally to an impressive 551 runs already from just nine innings at 78.71.
Fletcher, the rangy, aggressive hitter, had made the quicker start as the opening pair piled on a relatively quick 100-stand in 22 overs to be some 25 runs ahead on the DLS, but it was teenage rookie partner Jakob Bhula (41* at Fletcher's demise a couple of overs later) who soldiered on.
With a previous best this season of just 15, he looked the goods as an anchorman until he was just one run away from what would have been a maiden century. Critically, however, the DLS had now slid into the Stags' favour, just.
He had the worst of the day's weather. A stiff southerly was now blowing in the young man’s face and the temperature plunging as low cloud closed in. Further south, a tornado was whipping across the Canterbury country region.
The Firebirds were 188 for three, with the Stags' DLS par score that they needed to keep pace with just a fingertip away from them at 189. Two balls earlier, the Firebirds had been ahead.
Ben Wheeler was back for this match as part of his managed return from back surgery and had gone wicketless thus far.
Next ball, with Bhula on 99, Wheeler claimed the decisive wicket in what would prove the nick of time, and the last ball possible in the match.
Malcolm Nofal crossed paths with an unsurprisingly aghast Bhula (99 off 122 balls, with 11 boundaries) but had barely made it to the middle when all three batsmen were sent running for the pavilion as the cold rain arrived.
Conditions were getting increasingly dark to boot and it was soon clear to the umpires that there would be no further opportunity of play, conferring a tight DLS equation to the Stags. A dramatic end to a topsy turvy day, but one that would see no qualification for the Stags this year, while the Firebirds remain top of the table, now by a nose.
The Stags will see out their season at Pukekura Park against Canterbury on Saturday while the Firebirds will head north to Whangarei to a crunch match with Northern Districts, who are fighting the Auckland Aces for the final berth in the top three. Stay tuned, anything could happen!