Runs, wickets, unexpected plot twists — and every emotion under the sun. The oscillating contest between the Wellington Firebirds and Devon Hotel Central Stags at the Basin Reserve had the works, for both the players and the gallery soaking it up from the pohutukawa-framed banks.
Coming off a loss in Napier and keen to get his side onto the front foot, Stags captain Will Young was grateful to have regained the services of George Worker, who had been released by the BLACKCAPS ODI squad to get game time in the round two fixture.
Young did his bit by winning the toss and, despite a quick Firebirds breakthrough by Dane Hutchinson (who had Ben Smith, still looking for a score after his return from injury, caught behind) Worker promptly showed why he is such a dangerous one-day batsman.
The Firebirds had their chances to stop him from doing too much damage, but they went begging.
A stinging chance flew straight to Michael Pollard — standing at a brave short cover, then in his same over (the 18th) Jeetan Patel fluffed a caught and bowled, all this shortly after Worker had blitzed his half-century.
They weren’t the only fumbles before the Firebirds sorted out their fielding — and Worker was about to show they were big misses.
Ryder (58 off 42) enjoyed his first innings of substance after his return from an early season side strain, breezily pummelling six boundaries and two sixes in his half century before Michael Papps took a good diving catch to dismiss him off Grant Elliott, breaking the momentum in the 23rd over.
He had been an exciting pairing with the positive Worker, who had quickly settled to play a commanding role. Their first 50 runs together had flown off just 37 balls as they put on 126 for the second wicket.
At 139/2 after just 22.1 overs, the Stags surely looked set to build a powerful total.
Worker (114 off 120 balls) had posted a glamorous seventh List A ton (his fifth for the Stags), coming to grips with a two-paced surface to play his shots all around the wicket.
But it was round about then that the catches started to stick for the Firebirds and, with spinner Luke Woodcock finding Worker’s top edge, they succeeded in pulling the Stags right back as the visitors lost their way — stopped at 241, with 5.4 unused overs.
The Stags had criminally lost their last seven wickets for 60 runs, Anurag Verma chipping in with two late wickets in the space of three balls.
Worker had lost partners on both 98* and 99*, the first after Tom Bruce was run out after a second run was too ambitious against Dane Hutchinson's arm.
Dismissed in the 37th over, ultimately Worker himself was left chastising himself that he had not been able to carry on through, despite 17 boundaries and a six — but that aura of frustration would not last long.
The Stags quickly made up for it by slaughtering the Firebirds’ top order.
Michael Papps was trapped on four, and if that wasn’t enough of a downer in his 150th List A game, then the powerful trio of Stephen Murdoch, Craig Cachopa and Grant Elliott were all taken out of the equation with ducks.
That left a heavy weight on Michael Pollard’s shoulders as he fought for 28 of his team's first 32 runs. But he, too, would be sent back to the dressing room in the depths of the Vance Stand.
Stags seamer Seth Rance once again showed he was not to be underestimated as he started work on a Ford Trophy career best of 4-32, Bevan Small backing him up with 3-33.
But the contest was no over yet — another fascinating plot twist about to unfold.
Fom a perilous position of 112/8, Woodcock stepped up with his competent number 10 Anurag Verma (27 off 62) as they got themselves in, and then batted beautifully together.
Over the next 72 minutes they got the Firebirds right back in the game.
They added 95 runs for the ninth wicket, a gallant stand that stopped just three runs shy of breaking the Ford Trophy record (which had already been set by Verma in his previous life for the SKYCITY Northern Knights, alongside Graeme Aldridge at Seddon Park in 2012/13 — which, curiously enough, was also a loss to the Stags).
Woodcock’s run-a-ball 102, in his 101st Ford Trophy game for the Firebirds, was the veteran’s maiden List A century. But it would prove bittersweet when his wicket — caught off Rance — ended the nailbiting chase 32 runs short, in the 48th over.
Round three of the Ford Trophy is at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval (Canterbury v Firebirds), New Plymouth's Pukekura Park (Stags v Volts) and Auckland’s Eden Park Outer Oval (Aces v Knights) at 11am this Sunday, 3 January 2016.