CENTRAL STAGS beat AUCKLAND ACES by 6 wickets
10 February 2024
McLean Park, Napier
Points: Central Stags 4, Auckland Aces 0
- Louis Delport: career best batting
- Dane Cleaver: four wicketkeeping dismissals in an innings
- Dane Cleaver: 100 List A catches (includes field catches as well as wicketkeeping catches)
- Brad Schmulian: Maiden List A century
- Brad Schmulian: 1,000 List A career runs
- Dane Cleaver: 2,000 List A career runs
All images: PHOTOSPORT
After a lean trot on the road, defending Ford Trophy champions the Central Stags bounced back at home with a valuable win over the Auckland Aces in the tight race for the Finals berths.
The well-paced successful chase - maiden centurion Brad Schmulian ticking off the runs in the final over in Napier - saw the Stags leap back into the top three, after having been in a three-way tie in the bottom three following their Dunedin loss.
The Otago Volts, in fourth spot, are behind only on net run rate, however, with equal wins and equal bonus points, so there'll be no comfort for the Stags, or any of the other five teams, until a berth is inked in, with two rounds to go this week in which to do that.
The eighth-round showdown in Napier saw the Auckland Aces win the toss and bat, former Stag George Worker (below) leading the way at the top for his team with a knock of 56 in a 90-run opening stand with Cole Briggs (49).
The Stags' attack had to persist and be patient through the powerplay, and they began to fight back through the middle stages before some pressure fielding swung the pendulum back their way with the clatter of wickets.
Ajaz Patel got the initial breakthrough with Dane Cleaver knocking off the bails to deny Briggs a breezy fifty, and Patel quickly ripped out another two big wickets in Mark Chapman and Aces captain Robbie O'Donnell (with this season's regular Ford Trophy captain, allrounder Sean Solia, out with injury).
From 90/0 in the 19th, the Aces were 140/4 in the 33rd with Blair Tickner meanwhile having delighted in enticing the left-arm dangerman Worker to chop on.
The Aces had been on top for a period but the Stags fought back and, through the efforts of Ray Toole and Jayden Lennox, picked up another three wickets before the 40th over.
Aces spinner Louis Delport chanced his arm for some boundaries, however, and wound up with a career best 28 off just 21 balls, including three sixes off his opposite number Lennox.
Bustling Angus Olliver, in just his second match, meanwhile attacked Toole for a couple more, and contributed 17 off 12 balls in the tail as well before Toole had his revenge, ending the Aces' innings in the last over at 233 all out.
Yet again the Stags faced a run chase of under a run a ball (indeed, under five per over), which might have given supporters a few nerve pangs after the topsy turvy results of the last couple of weeks.
But this time a top-five batter managed to stay put, and it proved all the difference.
A man with an inimitable but effective technique, Brad Schmulian had headed into the game with a career best of 93 from last season, and joined the action in the sixth over following the loss of Jack Boyle at 11/1.
Olliver had his fourth List A wicket in his second game, but the Aces were made to wait for another breakthrough as fellow opener Curtis Heaphy kept busy in a century stand for the second.
Heaphy reached his third half century off 81 balls after a couple of hours, as O'Donnell looked to make a double change. It worked, with Delport getting Heaphy caught off a doomed reverse sweep soon after.
But at 132/2 in the 34th over, the Stags now had the solid platform they had sought. Captain Cleaver joined Schmulian and was soon into his work, peeling 12 off Chapman in one over and quickly adding a consolidating 51 for the third.
He and Schmulian kept turning over the strike in between the four-balls, and hurried the score to 183/2 by the 40-over mark, with just 51 further runs required.
Cleaver's luck ran out next ball when he top-edged Gus McKenzie, but Schmulian stayed for the duration, reaching his maiden one-day century off 122 balls, in 170 minutes, with nine boundaries, at the death.
He hit the winning run soon after, fittingly bringing home a six-wicket win with five balls to spare. The two teams will meet again in the last regular round in Auckland next weekend.