2018 1v2 "Major" Semi-Final
Central Stags v Auckland Aces at Pukekura Park, 17 February 2018
Not having dropped a match since the opening round, the Central Stags returned to Pukekura Park up against a very different Aces line-up to the one that had dealt them that sole, first-up loss on this same turf way back in early December when the 2017/18 Ford Trophy had commenced.
Gone from the Aces were dangerous hitters Colin Munro and Mark Chapman (to the BLACKCAPS) and strike men Mitch McClenaghan and Ben Lister, the latter missing through illness. For the Stags, however, it was a stable squad, bar Ben Wheeler’s call-up to the BLACKCAPS. And with both Doug Bracewell and Adam Milne back on all cylinders, they now possessed the most demanding seam attack in the country.
Milne opened the attack with Seth Rance, then came Blair Tickner — one of the best performed seamers across all competitions this summer — and Bracewell, all with the ability to send down a heavy ball.
At a ground that supposedly favours batting, captain Will Young was pleased to put the Aces in and let the fun begin on a sultry, overcast morning on a deck that he rightly suspected would prove tacky, two-paced.
The Aces’ opening pair of Jeet Raval and Glenn Phillips were suitably cautious. Raval had barely got going — pinging consecutive boundaries off Rance — only to edge him behind next ball, in the sixth over.
Milne had meanwhile opened with a maiden before Phillips managed to pick a few early boundaries on the way to a relatively chaste 45 off 53 balls.
Bracewell stopped him, his second wicket after Young had earlier put his sharp catching skills to use against Sean Solia.
When Craig Cachopa was bowled by Milne (a wicket maiden), his batting partner and New Zealand Under-19s star Finn Allen found himself in a tricky spot — on List A debut, against the same team he had played on his Aces T20 debut last season — with Michael Barry, the pair finding the going tough against an attack that already had their tails up.
Allen lasted 19 balls but his inaugural dismissal was a piece of bad luck — bowler Tickner stretching out a paw to the ball as it was driven back to him and deflecting it from a fair hop straight onto the non-striker’s.
Remarkably, the third such dismissal in the space of four games involving the Stags in this Ford Trophy season, the first of them having been at the Stags’ own expense.
Barry had already been caught behind off Milne — another wicket maiden for the quick, the Aces losing three wickets for just nine runs by the 25-over mark. Now here they were in deep water at 114 for six — soon 114 for seven when spinner Ajaz Patel got a cracker through Donovan Grobbelaar’s defences.
With a full 20 overs left in the innings and only three wickets in hand, the Aces were on the ropes. However, it was at this timely moment that, after 66 innings, veteran Tarun Nethula — who had made his way into the 40s just three times before in his career, his best of 49 from his days playing for the Stags — finally came up with his maiden List A half century.
He had joined the whipper snapper Ben Horne and the pair stayed together for 12 overs, frustrating the eminent attack with an Aces eighth wicket record stand against the side of 105 runs, breaking the mark of 93* that Gareth Hopkins and Ronnie Hira had set at Eden Park Outer Oval a full decade before.
In the end, it took a couple of brilliant pieces of fielding to remove the duo, Tom Bruce’s arm taking care of Nethula on 51 while Will Young had one stump to aim at from point to stop Horne on what proved the Aces’ top score of 63.
Horne was the only one of the visitors who managed to score at better than run-a-ball, leaving them in far better shape at 233 for nine. Bracewell soon swooped in for the last tailend wicket bundle out the Aces for 240, however, the visitors ruefully leaving with four overs unbowled.
A difficult score to defend on Pukekura Park (RPO 4.64) required a tight bowling approach, but most of the attack would struggle to match the home attack’s economy.
However, the weather was about to deal a curve ball, a sudden, isolated but heavy shower arriving so quickly that the groundsmen were left scrambling for the scrim as the clouds opened.
A lengthy break in play ensued, more than 90 minutes waiting first for the rain cloud itself to push off and then for the perimeter of the somewhat damp pitch to be dried. George Worker and Ben Smith had run off the park at eight for no loss, two runs ahead of the fledgling DLS at the time, and the intrigue now, as watery sunshine slowly reappeared on a still-warm afternoon, was how the event had affected bowling conditions.
The delay saw the chase reduced to a total of 190 from 32 overs, so a further 182 off 175, an asking rate of more than a run a ball. If that seemed a rough twist of fate after the Aces batsmen’s own struggles lifting the pace, it didn’t seem to faze Worker or Smith when they eventually got back on the park.
Smith followed up a boundary off Grobbelaar with his first six, as the nurdley home opener had only ever hit his first six at this ground in training two days earlier.
Worker was his brutal self with punishing pulls and cut strokes, six boundaries on his way to 46 which was the same score Smith would reach before the pair departed in the 16th and 18th overs.
Despite not going on, they had given their side a significant early boost. At 113 for two, the remainder of the chase ought to have been a doddle, and so it proved with Young the only batsman to miss out after trying to slap a short Lockie Ferguson over square.
First drop Jesse Ryder finished unbeaten on 53 off just 34 balls (seven boundaries, two sixes) with help from Tom Bruce (19* off 10, one boundary, two sixes) as the pair finished the job in the 26th over for a dominant seven-wicket DLS win.
Washout aside, it was the Stags’ seventh consecutive win in this season’s Ford Trophy and secured a home 2018 Ford Trophy Grand Final at Pukekura Park for this coming Saturday, 24 February.
The Stags won The Ford Trophy against Canterbury at this same venue just two seasons ago and now wait for the result of Wednesday’s Elimination Final (11am at Colin Maiden Park, Auckland) to find out whether they will be facing Canterbury or the Aces once more in the big, final white-ball match of the 2017/18 New Zealand domestic season.