AUCKLAND ACES v CENTRAL STAGS
Eden Park Outer Oval
10 November 2018
Result: Central Stags won by 170 runs
The return of both Seth Rance (from UAE) and Ben Wheeler brought added firepower to the Central Stags in this round and they used it to shoot down the Auckland Aces in a rematch between last summer's Grand Finalists.
The Aces had sent the Stags in on a day licked by a cool southerly, and the hosts had good reason to be confident after having been unbeaten at Eden Park Outer Oval in all three of their previous Ford Trophy matches there this season, against Canterbury, the Wellington Firebirds and ND.
But it would be fourth time unlucky, not that luck had a lot to do with a thrashing to the tune of 170 runs — Central’s largest ever List A winning margin against the Aces, and their fifth largest of all time.
Despite a couple of early breakthroughs for debutant pace bowler Michael Snedden — who became a fourth generation Auckland representative in the process — and Jamie Brown, Stags opener Greg Hay, answering an SOS call for the depleted side this season, continued to have a steadying influence on the young Stags in these rare white-ball outings.
Hay batted productively into the 33rd over and once again combined with powerfully-built youngster Dean Foxcroft who backed up his maiden century three days earlier with another impressive and, at times, explosive knock of 90, including a six onto the concourse.
Hay clocked it around for eight boundaries and three sixes in his innings, reaching 85 — his career best — and was in sight of a white-ball maiden century of his own at the tender age of 34 before he was snaffled attempting to slam another one to the short boundary off a calm and steady Snedden who claimed a debut haul of 3-61 off nine.
Stags captain Doug Bracewell had an excellent all-round day and strode in to give the innings even more impetus, slamming a dangerous 42 off just 31 balls to take the Stags through to 247 for seven in the 48th, and for much of it 300-plus had been looking on.
However, the visitors’ momentum faltered a little at the death, Mitch McClenaghan firing up and proving himself hard to put away.
The big aggressor would go wicketless, but at a lean cost of just three runs per over while Snedden and Michael Barry picked up three-fors apiece.
Known this season for their nail-biting last-over finishes, form said the Aces should nevertheless have been up for a chase of 296 — especially after having pegged the Stags’ scoring rate back at the death. Yet it would quickly become apparent that this would be anything but a nail-biter.
Rance, wearing injured Ben Smith's shirt in his first appearance in the format this home season since returning from the BLACKCAPS T20 side, knocked the top off and was sitting on 3-29 by the time he grabbed the key wicket of Craig Cachopa on 13, knocking his stumps over to have the Aces 3-49. Another half dozen vociferous shouts had gone up from his bowling in between.
Wheeler, in his second appearance of the summer as he comes back from spinal fusion surgery, then took over and, on his 27th birthday, celebrated with a career best List A haul of 4-24 off just seven overs.
Wheeler’s return meant the Stags had the luxury of two left-armers, with Ryan McCone also putting the heat on and picking up Michael Barry who had clung on as all his partners disappeared to top-score for the Aces from first drop with just 36. Class act Bracewell meanwhile heaped the pressure on, going for just 11 runs off his seven overs.
Only a late flurry from Barry and the tailenders, including an unbeaten 18 from debutant Snedden, spared the Aces the ignominy of being dismissed for double figures as they crawled from 97 for eight to 125.
Enter 20-year-old Felix Murray into the attack, the diminutive former NZU19 spinner taking exactly one ball to finish off the job for match figures of 0.1-0-0-1, bowling Jamie Brown to put the lid on the game with almost a whopping 20 overs to spare.
The hiding also gave the Stags a valuable bonus point and saw them jump from last to fourth on the table — and now, just one point behind the third-placed Aucklanders and once again in a position to challenge for a playoff spot.
There were outstanding moments in the field from both teams on a windy but bright day, with running catches from both Ace Sean Solia and Stags keeper Ma’ara Ave and a great stop from the surprise package Murray whose catch removed McClenaghan.
Snedden could console himself with his personal debut efforts, but fellow debutant and former Gujarati cricketer Raj Majithia, brought in for the struggling youngster Finn Allen, was not so fortunate — the first of Rance's wickets in the doomed chase. The match also saw veteran spinner Ronnie Hira make a rare appearance, but go wicketless.
All teams now gather in Lincoln and Christchurch for a fascinating next three rounds, starting this Wednesday. Entry at Lincoln is free for every match.
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