AUCKLAND ACES v WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS
Eden Park Outer Oval
28 October 2018
RESULT: Auckland Aces won by 13 runs
Two unbeaten sides produced the tightest finish of Round Two in a hard-fought encounter at the Aces' home base.
Despite an imperious 120 from Firebird Michael Bracewell — a career-best effort and just his second ton in List A cricket, the chase would end an unlucky 13 runs short for the visitors from the capital, left gutted going after the Aces' 276 for nine.
It was one of the great comebacks for the Aces, six wickets in six overs clinching the victory after the Firebirds had looked like they were cruising in the middle overs.
It hadn't been an auspicious start to the day for the Aces, after Firebirds captain Hamish Bennett had won the toss and sent them in.
Finn Allen returned to the sheds without scoring, and Michael Barry was at the crease in the first over. Barry took the lead in upping the run rate while Sean Solia, fresh off an unbeaten century on Wednesday, played a supporting role.
Barry was looking good but was caught behind off Iain McPeake. That was to be the refrain of the Aces' innings as players got starts but, mostly, failed to kick on.
Captain Craig Cachopa joined with Solia for a 97-run partnership that took the Aces past the 100-mark.
Solia accelerated after a slow start, bringing up his 50 in 64 balls, including a couple of sweetly timed sixes back over the bowler’s head.
Cachopa finished one short of 50, caught behind off Jimmy Neesham, while Solia reached 63 before also being caught behind, off leggie Peter Younghusband.
From there, it was a frustrating spell for the hosts with Graeme Beghin (39) and Ben Horne (26) looking dangerous, but that was cut short when Horne was run out.
By the end of their 50 overs the Aces had scored 276/9 and would have felt like they had left 20 runs on the park.
They started their bowling after lunch with a hiss and a roar – Danru Ferns opened up with a maiden, and Mitchell McClenaghan took a wicket with his first ball. After three overs, the Firebirds were 0/1.
Dangerous Devon Conway scored three fours in his 13 before a one-handed catch on the boundary by Will Somerville sent him back to the sheds. That brought Michael Bracewell to the crease, who put together partnerships with Andrew Fletcher (39) and then Neesham (63) as he brought up his second one-day century.
With Neesham and Bracewell putting on 111 runs for the fourth wicket, things didn’t look great for the Aces.
The first breakthrough came when Neesham was caught by Cachopa off the bowling of Somerville. The Firebirds were 220/4 and the Aces sensed that they were back in the match.
Still, with six wickets in hand and just 37 runs needed, it was still going the way of the Firebirds.
Then the collapse started.
Jakob Bhula was bowled by Michael Barry in the 42nd over, quickly followed by Younghusband bowled by O’Donnell, three balls later.
In the 44th over, Lauchie Johns was dismissed by a fantastic catch on the boundary by McClenaghan, and the Firebirds began to panic.
This panic worsened an over later when they were at 256/8, Iain McPeake stumped off the bowling of O’Donnell.
When, little more than an over later, Ollie Newton was out leg before to Barry, the Firebirds were 13 runs behind with their last batsman heading to the middle.
Ferns came on for his second spell and Bracewell, who had played an intelligent and well crafted 120, decided that he was going to have to get the victory himself.
The first ball of the over, Bracewell gave a huge heave over long-on and didn’t get anywhere near enough on it. Barry (3-37) took the catch and the Aces had the victory by 13.
The Aces' next match is away to Canterbury at Hagley Oval this Wednesday. The Firebirds meanwhile head home to the Basin to host the Otago Volts, also from 11am. Across Cook Straight the Central Stags play host to ND at Nelson's Saxton Oval; all matches in this round are free admission.