Central Stags lost to Auckland Aces by 5 wickets at New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park
With the likes of Mitch McClenaghan, Colin Munro, Jesse Ryder, Tom Bruce and Doug Bracewell, to name a few, it shaped as a clash of the titans at a warm and sunny Pukekura Park.
However, despite winning the toss and a seventh List A half century for hometown batsman Bruce, the Central Stags found themselves restricted to a middling 224 at their home ground with 5.1 overs unused.
After a match delayed by half an hour by dew on the shaded side of the boundary, both teams at times struggled to adjust to the slower pace of the pitch despite sweltering sunny weather, batsmen on both sides undone after building positive starts.
However, a string of partnerships through the middle order ultimately saw the Aces collect their win with nine overs to spare.
The Stags were without usual opener George Worker (away running drinks for the BLACKCAPS Test squad), whose strong record at Pukekura Park was missed. In his absence, keeper-batsman Dane Cleaver looked to continue his hard-hitting form from red-ball cricket this season as he stepped up the order to open alongside Ben Smith, the latter returning from a broken finger.
Also returning from injury was Aces leg-spinner Tarun Nethula who would later make his presence felt against his former team with a key 4-64 from his set of 10, while Matt McEwan and Mark Chapman both chimed in with two wickets.
But first the Stags had to see off the opening attack of McClenaghan and, on List A debut, youthful left-armer Ben Lister.
McClenaghan made the first breakthrough as he got an attacking Cleaver caught in the deep at the end of the fifth over, then Lister had his maiden wicket early as Smith edged behind.
With all his experience, Jesse Ryder looked to calm things down in the middle, but he was given out LBW after a run-a-ball 30 and, ultimately, it would fall to Tom Bruce and Doug Bracewell to try to keep the Stags ticking over as wickets fell too quickly for the home team’s liking.
Looking to make up for lost time, Bruce smashed it out of the park as they approached the 40-over mark, their 50-stand flying off 44 balls, and raised in like fashion by Bracewell.
Bruce’s half century took the Stags to 178 for six, but the urgency to get more runs on the board cost more wickets.
Set a required run rate of 4.50, the Aces looked to be in the box seat with dangerman Munro opening. He led the way by racing to 39 before falling victim to a delighted Blair Tickner who looks to have gained a yard of pace and hit the ground hard on a hot afternoon.
Glenn Phillips took over the baton for the Aces and was on the cusp of a quick half ton when Ben Wheeler claimed his second wicket, but at 126 for three the Stags already needed more breakthroughs quickly.
Spinner Ajaz Patel and Tickner would make a couple of more breakthroughs between them, but the sand was already running out of the hourglass as Robbie O’Donnell and Ben Horne finished off a team effort from the Aces, Craig Cachopa stepping up into the Aces captaincy for The Ford Trophy with the W first-up.
The Stags now head north to look for their first win against Northern Districts in Whangarei on Wednesday while the Aces head home to Eden Park Outer Oval to play defending champions Canterbury.