CENTRAL STAGS v OTAGO VOLTS
Saxton Oval, Nelson
24 October 2018
RESULT: Central Stags won by 37 runs
Despite fighting their way back into a match that undulated between the two teams, the Otago Volts would miss a golden chance to take down the Central Stags as 2018/19 Ford Trophy got cracking at Saxton Oval.
This was not the Stags’ regular formidable white-ball line-up. George Worker, Tom Bruce, Will Young, Blair Tickner and Ajaz Patel were already in the UAE representing NZ A, and Seth Rance and Adam Milne were on their way to the BLACKCAPS T20 rendezvous. Ben Wheeler was still recovering from surgery and, just the day before the game, wicketkeeper-batsman Dane Cleaver, who had been set to step into the breach and open the batting, was also called away into the NZ A tour as cover for Tom Blundell.
The Volts, with powerful batsmen like Shawn Hicks, Anaru Kitchen, Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford, and useful bowling in Michael Rippon, Mark Craig and Jacob Duffy should have been more than a match for a Stags side that featured three young debutants (Willem Ludick, Felix Murray and Marlborough keeper Ma’ara Ave, who rushed from Manawatu to join the team at the last minute) and shored up by the mature ilk of Greg Hay — playing his first List A game for the Stags since March 2014 — and Kieran Noema-Barnett, a former Stags captain, now back home, managing the team, and playing his first match for the Stags in two years, after a few years as a County pro for Gloucestershire.
New Volts co-captain Mark Craig won the toss and sent the Stags in on an overcast, mist-shrouded morning on a slowish deck. The weather, just like the match and conditions, would change dramatically over the course of the game, ending in blue-sky sunshine as the deck quickened up for the Volts' dramatic chase.
But to begin with, those conditions were slow and tricky and fortune had conspired for Central to have just the right men for the job at the top of their order, both Hay and Ben Smith better known for their red-ball achievements.
Underway immediately against Nathan Smith and Duffy, they knew how to deal with the pace of the pitch and played a patience game en route to a record one-day opening stand between the two teams of 167 for one.
Craig finally enticed a simple return catch from Ben Smith to end his impressive knock on a career-best 93 off 100 balls, just as he had seemed destined for a maiden List A century.
The pair had batted their way into the 33rd over and, from there, you would have thought the Stags would have had no trouble capitalising on the solid platform.
However, Matt Bacon revved up as more wickets began to topple. The loss of Hay, after a career-best 82, a few overs later at 207 for four triggered a collapse that saw the hosts slope into lunch sobered at 269 for seven — a fair tally that would not have been that depressing were they not fully aware they'd just let the Volts right back in through the last 15 or so overs. Six wickets were lost for 97 runs.
The Volts made a good beginning to their chase, Hamish Rutherford (28) and new opening partner Mitch Renwick (25) getting starts, but it would be starts only from the top five, and it cost the Volts crucial momentum despite needing little more than run-a-ball.
The match had many twists and turns, pressure building, and then released, an early season arm-wrestle that tested and frustrated both teams, at times.
The Stags missed key moments in the field, including Neil Broom (35) dropped off 19-year-old debutant Felix Murray's second ball of the day, by his mortified former NZ under-19s teammate Josh Clarkson.
Murray he got a second shot at Broom as he tried to charge to the young spinner, only to become his maiden wicket: stumped by Ma'ara Ave, who likewise now had his maiden dismissal in List A cricket.
It was Murray's, Clarkson's and Christian Leopard's former NZ U19s captain Josh Finnie who gave the Volts their best hope of settling themselves of getting up for the 270 target from 130 for four. The livewire smashed five sixes, dominating a quick fifth-wicket stand with Anaru Kitchen that got the Volts humming again.
His own 50 came off just 38 balls, however on 63 he played on against Noema-Barnett. And, it all quickly unravelled for the southerners from there, under mounting pressure until they were bowled out 37 runs short, with a handful of overs unutilised.
Now the early frontrunners in both formats played so far this season, the Stags head up to their Taranaki home ground to meet Canterbury on Sunday before returning to Nelson next Wednesday, while the Volts will be keen to learn their lessons and get on the board at Seddon Park against a useful ND side.