Wet weather that affected two of three matches in the Women’s Twenty20 on Waitangi weekend couldn’t stop a dramatic finish to the final round — far from it.
The only game that went the distance was in sun-soaked Dunedin, where the SBS Bank Otago Sparks brushed aside Wellington Blaze — and with it, erased the Blaze’s hopes of defending their Twenty20 crown.
In second spot heading into the day’s action, Blaze had needed a win to be sure of joining the Canterbury Magicians in next weekend’s final: now their fate lay with the Central Hinds and Northern Spirit game, at the opposite end of the country.
Unfortunately for the Spirit, and ultimately the Blaze, that match at Cobham Oval, Whangarei, would have to be abandoned, after a tentative start on an afternoon on which weather interference was always on the radar.
A couple of hours south, the Magicians-Hearts contest at Auckland’s Melville Park had already been ditched without a ball bowled (a result that had no bearing on either side’s fate).
But in Whangarei, it would all come down to maths. Once the two points had been allocated to both Spirit and the Hinds for the washout, it left the Hinds and Blaze on equal points. But guess what? The Hinds had got themselves up thanks to a marginally better net run rate. Cue devastation for the star-studded Wellingtonians down south.
So, the 2016 Final will be between the Canterbury Magicians and Central Hinds at Mainpower Oval, Rangiora on Sunday 14 February.
For the record, Spirit had opted to bowl in Whangarei, newly recalled WHITE FERN Felicity Leydon-Davis taking an early wicket in the five overs permitted by the disagreable weather.
In Dunedin, a full match had gone totally haywire for the Blaze for an eight-wicket drubbing. Sent in by Sparks captain Suzie Bates, even a blazing 52 from 42 balls at the top from Rachel Priest hadn’t been enough to save them.
Priest had watched two partners come and go before she fell in the 16th over, and undoubtedly the biggest shockwave was Blaze captain Sophie Devine departing for just 13. Devine had struggled through 24 balls in her first match back since a back niggle.
An unbeaten, nine-ball 25, composed almost entirely of boundaries, from Eimear Richardson was handy, though, and pushed the Blaze’s ultimate tally out to 133 for four.
Not a drastically poor score after that: just never enough on a day the already-eliminated Sparks were determined to win in order to complete their Twenty20 season on a good note, against the very side that beat them in last year's Final.
They did that in spades, spinner Morna Nielsen having been a challenge as usual with the ball, while their strong top order confidently attacked the chase.
Bates’s 25 at better than run a ball included two sixes, and she was supported at the other end by England international Lauren Marsh, who marched steadily to 35 before she was caught off Richardson.
By then, the Sparks were well in sight of the finish line at 125 for two, thanks to a blistering knock from first drop Katey Martin — who celebrated her WHITE FERNS recall from earlier in the week with a boundary-studded 40-ball 63 (nine fours, one six).
The Blaze was forced to rock back and watch, pondering what might have been.
With the Canterbury Magicians doing battle with the Central Hinds on Sunday at Rangiora, a new T20 champion is guaranteed this season.