Central Stags beat Canterbury by 2 wickets at Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North
A gripping game, full of twists and turns, fightbacks and counterpunches between last year’s champions and this year’s front-runners — both sharp teams coming off solid wins — went down to the final over on a balmy Palmerston North afternoon.
Winning the toss and batting first on a deck that was a bit slow, but flattened as the day quickly heated up, Canterbury recovered from a shaky start that had seen them in absolute peril at 72 for five to ultimately post a challenging 286 for seven — all thanks to the veteran rearguard of Todd Astle (62) and Andrew Ellis (who finished with an unbeaten 93 off 103 balls, 6x4, 2x6) and a delightful, career best 77 off just 43 balls from Kyle Jamieson at eight.
Jamieson showed his big frame packed plenty of power behind the bat as well as a ball as he and Ellis smashed the Canterbury all-time seventh wicket List A record, their 124-stand leaving the 91-run effort of Rob Nicol and Ronnie Hira well in their wake.
Captain Ellis (above) had the strike but couldn’t quite get up for a ton off Adam Milne’s final over while Jamieson was run out going for the obligatory hopeful second run off the last ball of the innings.
The wickets had been shared around, Milne — making a rare appearance on his Manawatu home ground, above — starting proceedings with Michael Pollard caught in the first over of the day.
Henry Nicholls was also out for no score as Ryan McCone struck shortly afterwards, a simple catch guided to Will Young as the top order struggled to adapt quickly enough to a surface that had had all the looks of a belter.
Coming off a century, Chad Bowes watched on from the other end, but the biggest home crowd cheer went up when BLACKCAP Tom Latham likewise came and went quickly, having looked to sweep Ajaz Patel only to casually lob the catch to Milne — who returned a favour after Patel had caught his wicket, Canterbury now 40 for three.
Bowes had been quickly into his work and reached a run-a-ball 42 before becoming Patel’s second victim, while Cameron Fletcher fell cheaply to Blair Tickner before the visitors fought back.
The mood as the Stags left the field was quiet, general consensus being that they had let Canterbury off the hook and would need a big effort, now, to reach their goal of 287 on a hot afternoon.
But the top of the table hosts turned on a determined run chase for their Palmerston North supporters, both openers — George Worker and Ben Smith (below) — securing half centuries.
Worker looked measured and in control, reaching 53 before being undone by Astle’s wrong ‘un, but anchorman Smith proved the key man batting into the 40th over for his 82 — just eight runs away from his List A best.
After his dismissal there was still urgent work to be done and, as the required run rate moved towards double digits, captain Will Young stepped it up and reached 57 at better than run-a-ball pace thanks to a his second six, planted into the carpark off Astle (below).
Ford Trophy debutant Christian Leopard’s bright cameo saw the 20-year-old peel four consecutive boundaries off Ellis, and then a six off Matt Henry, the RPO swiftly racheted down again before it had got totally out of control.
Canterbury meanwhile kept themselves in the game with wickets, until the Stags needed 10 off the last over, with their last three in hand.
Ryan McCone scrambled a single first ball to put Adam Milne on strike, who found the boundary before being caught off the very next delivery — now there were just two wickets in hand, and big Jamieson on the charge with the ball.
Ajaz Patel was the new batsman and had no option but to throw everything at it, launching into a full-blooded pull shot that he top-edged, sending the ball streakily flying away behind him to the rope — the boundary (below) tying the scores.
Patel had annoyed the Cantabrians with both bat and ball, and knocked off the tense chase next ball for an impressive two-wicket win with just one ball to spare.
The win saw the Stags open up a five-point lead over the Aces at the head of the table while defending champions Canterbury are now in must-win mode as their title hopes took another hit, and with just three rounds remaining. Only the top four sides will progress to the finals series.
The Stags now head back to Invercargill to play the Otago Volts at 11am on Sunday while Canterbury travel to the opposite end of the country to face Northern Districts in Whangarei the same day.