WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS v NORTHERN DISTRICTS
4 November 2018
All eyes were on new Birds sensation Andrew Fletcher after the opening batsman had scored two centuries from his first three Ford Trophy appearances.
Fletcher was looking on yet again as he cruised past another half century. However, this time he was dismissed caught behind for 64 after a rollicking 81-run stand with Jimmy Neesham for the fourth wicket.
Daryl Mitchell, who would end with 3-44 off his nine overs, had meanwhile made three big, quick, handy breakthroughs for the northerners in Malcolm Nofal, Devon Conway and Michael Bracewell, but Neesham stopped the rot for the hosts, and looked dangerous to boot.
On 54* at the time of Fletcher's dismissal, Neesham had played an aggressive role in their stand and the Firebirds were in a strong position at 162 for four after 34 overs.
He brought up the Firebirds' 200 with a boundary at the end of the 39th, but on 86 (slayed off 67 balls, 8x4, 4x6) he fell short of a century as Anton Devcich delighted in the big wicket.
With youngster Jakob Bhula, he had taken the hosts through to a healthy platform of 210 for five entering the death overs, but was surely left kicking himself over a missed opportunity to take total control.
Young ND paceman Zak Gibson then struck twice in the following over, doing his best to stop the Firebirds kicking on: 214 for seven, now, with Bhula and Peter Younghusband his victims.
Another double strike from Devcich right on the stroke of 50 overs stopped the Firebirds' clock at 269 all out, a good fightback from the visitors. Ollie Newton's lively 27 from 17 had helped the Firebirds along, but the hosts had missed a chance to truly capitalise, leaving ND a required rate of slightly less than a run a ball at 5.4.
ND's Devcich meanwhile had collected a long-awaited five-wicket bag with that last ball of the innings. It was the veteran off-spinning allrounder's first five-fa in his 84 List A appearances and, remarkably, his first in any format for his beloved Northern Districts, a haul of 5-46 off 10.
ND's reply wasn't what their doctor ordered, however, as they collapsed to 130 for eight inside 34 overs.
Peter Bocock and tailender Brett Randell were left staring at a required run rate approaching double figures and it seemed ND would be waiting yet again to get a win in white-ball cricket this season unless they could pull off a miraculous fightback of their own.
Randell, whose previous Ford Trophy best from eight appearances was 14, helped by belting a six off Nofal to raise the ND 150 off 215 balls in the 36th, and the pair was trucking boldly at 10 an over with a further 119 required.
By 39 overs, they had built a 50-stand for the ninth wicket, the target down to 90. The Firebirds had had enough of it and, in the 43rd over, finally another wicket tumbled as Ben Sears broke though Randell (a valiant career best 25 off 31) to have ND on the brink at last: 197 for nine.
Bocock wasn't done, and brought up the ND 200 with a boundary off Sears, but a maiden from Neesham had meanwhile escalated the runs pressure to 12 an over. The insolence continued as Bocock tapped Newton for a single to reach his fighting half century off just 40 rocks (six boundaries, one six), the ask now 53 from the last 3.5 overs. Improbable, but worryingly still possible for the hosts.
The deficit got down to 40 before the luck finally ran out for ND, Gibson's dismissal on a career best 18 by captain Hamish Bennett (4-34) ending their fight for survival on 230.
The maroons will now head home to Hamilton's Seddon Park, hoping to get that elusive win against the Stags on Wednesday.