The Otago Volts have turned in the perfect dress rehearsal for the 2013 HRV Cup Final by beating the Canterbury Wizards under pressure on the last ball of their final round encounter.
Chasing 163 to win and comfortably on target through the first three-quarters of their innings thanks to a six-laden 58 off 26 from Aaron Redmond, tension suddenly escalated in the closing stages. The Wizards' wily Andy Ellis delivered his last over for just six runs – and finished with shining figures of two for 14 off four, causing the Volts to abruptly lose their momentum.
It was enough to give the Wizards a sniff, while the Volts were desperate not to lose the match, a record ninth victory on the trot front of mind. When two quick wickets fell in the penultimate over, bowled by Ryan McCone, the screws tightened further on the table-topping home team and Ian Butler and one-game import Brett Lee were left requiring eight off Logan van Beek's last.
With just a single possible off van Beek's first three deliveries, the nerve-wracking equation then ballooned to seven off three. An untimely wide eased the pressure, but Otago hearts jumped again as Butler feathered a lucky inside edge behind him for the streakiest of fours.
Slashing again at the penultimate ball, this time Butler was not so lucky, caught behind on 11.
Mark Craig, fresh at the crease, needed at least two off the final ball to avert a loss or, hitherto unseen in this year's competition, a bowl-off. Driving lustily, he found a thick edge that flew over the ring field to secure a three-wicket win in front of the delighted home crowd.
Batting first after winning the toss, earlier the Canterbury Wizards' total had been built on another solid hand from opener George Worker, who struck three sixes en route to his half-century and shared 50-run partnerships with both Brad Cachopa (37) and Tom Latham (16) - the latter stand flying from just 26 balls, with Worker carving Ryan ten Doeschate for twin sixes off the 13th over.
But Volts spinner Nick Beard (three for 26 off four) capped an excellent day by snaring Worker with one of his last deliveries before Volts skipper Derek de Boorder took care of Latham with a stumping in the very next over, after Latham over-balanced biting at a widish Butler delivery.
The quick wickets triggered a frenetic finish, with death specialist Jacob Duffy bowling full, straight and with just enough movement to keep the batsmen on edge. Bowler Lee meanwhile coolly ran out Ellis with a direct throw after the pressure resulted in a calling mix-up.
Lee, who returns to Australia after this cameo appearance, got a wicket in his column with the final ball of the innings, van Beek caught by Neil Broom to give the Australian one for 19 off his four. The Wizards had scrambled through to 162 for six, a respectable total on University Oval, but not enough to shut out the table-toppers of the now complete regular competition.