The Central Stags showed they may have been down but they’re definitely not out of contention as they turned the tables on the Otago Volts with a huge revenge victory in Invercargill.
Almost everything about the match was the complete opposite of what had gone down at Pukekura Park just days before. There, the Stags had won the toss and probably made a mistake in batting first on a weather-bitten pitch. Now they found themselves sent in on a belter to rack up a serious total while it was the Volts who crumbled with the bat this time around and left dazed by the final result.
The Stags had set them a huge ask of 218, the Central lads having smashed their highest T20 tally of the season after springing a bunch of surprises in their batting order and, for the first time in the competition, producing the goods with both bat and ball in the same game.
Bringing in youngster Christian Leopard for opening batsman Ben Smith, captain Will Young moved up to open and stayed at the tiller for 18 overs — his boundary-rich 79 flying off just 43 balls.
If there was a brief moment of déja vu in the first innings, it was when Jesse Ryder again went early — six and out to Matt Bacon first over, but surprise first drop Leopard proved a windfall up the order with his maiden T20 half century belted off just 21 balls.
Leopard had shown glimpses of his usefulness down the order on debut back in his very first appearance in Mt Maunganui. Now, three of his four sixes were pelted off consecutive balls as he gave Rob Nicol an over to forget — and with Young he poured on 83 for the second wicket before he was caught off Michael Rippon to bring his fast 52 to a close in the eighth.
Young’s half century was meanwhile his third in this season’s competition, posted off just 28 nuts as he swiped Rippon for six.
He quickly found another ally in Tom Bruce and the pair slammed 82 in good time for the third wicket before Bruce fell short of his own fifty, exciting paceman Michael Rae (3-31) again making a big impression for the Volts with his demanding height and growing confidence.
Just as Seth Rance had done in the previous game for the other side, now Rae put himself on a hat-trick next over with the wickets of Josh Clarkson and Dane Cleaver (without score), two heavy hitters gone in a blink and the southerners’ chance to stem some of the damage at the death.
But the Stags were already in sight of putting 200 on the board, and Young would bat through to the end of the 18th over which gave his teammates a license to swing freely.
Ben Wheeler’s first six smashed the 200 onto the tins but Bacon came back at the death with Neil Wagner and profited, claiming Young and then two wickets in the last over to finish with his new career best of 4-31 in only his third match.
All up, the Stags smashed 15 sixes in the innings and the good crowd at Queen’s Park enjoying a sunny afternoon had been treated not just to a Whopper 6 deal but to a fast and entertaining show, albeit not from their home side.
It would be a stark contrast, the proverbial game of two halves as the second innings saw the Stags bowlers dominate and Volts batsmen capitulate.
Rob Nicol and Hamish Rutherford, back in the XI at last, made a good, positive start getting a quick 30 up on the board for no loss, Rutherford looking dangerous while Nicol had been the steady anchor in the previous encounter between these sides.
But when Blair Tickner removed Nicol caught in the third over, the wheels fell off the Volts wagon, 31 for no loss but then losing eight wickets through the next 10 overs in rapid succession.
Both Bevan Small (3-20) and spinner Ajaz Patel (2-15) picked up their best T20 figures but it was the batsmen they removed that was key — giant-killer Small taking out Rutherford on 21 in the seventh over and Patel accounting for BLACKCAP Anaru Kitchen, bowled for just five runs.
Shawn Hicks probably won’t be looking forward to facing Seth Rance again as the Stags’ BLACKCAP claimed him for a golden duck for the second time in two games and it was Rance who wrapped it up, the Volts dismissed for just 99 with almost six and a half overs to spare.
While the Volts were already out of contention for the title, it was an important win for the Stags who needed to find their old touch in their final three matches to challenge for a Finals berth.
They now head back to Pukekura Park this Friday for what will be a fascinating rematch of last year’s Grand Final, the Wellington Firebirds just two points ahead of them and booked in for back-to-back matches against the Stags to round out the round robin.