Pukekura Park was buzzing. A big crowd of almost 3000, a stunning late December afternoon, used deck, Stags batting first on it and BLACKCAP George Worker back and ready for work.
Twelve overs later he’d caned one of his best T20 innings with 75 off just 38 balls, the run rate was tracking in double figures and the local hopes were justifiably high for a commanding total at the Stags’ House of Fun.
But from a powerhouse position of 140 for two, the Stags found themselves critically becalmed in the last five overs of their innings — in which they lost five wickets, and all their momentum, for just 40 odd runs.
After slaying six bombs and seven fours and making life for the likes of even Brent Arnel a general misery, Worker had missed out on a maiden shot at T20 triple figures.
Fellow spinning allrounder Anton Devcich (3-21) had come back into the attack in the 13th over, the change-down of pace doing the job for the visitors as punishing Worker went to sweep only for the ball to drift into the hands of Daryl Mitchell at square.
Competitive Devcich had earlier picked up another big wicket in Jesse Ryder before Stags captain Will Young continued his vein of good form with a punchy 43 off 35 to keep the home team chugging along well early doors.
Young and Worker pumped out an 84-run stand but, when the pair fell in the space of two overs, the Knights quickly got themselves back in the game, the boundaries all but drying up as the Stags’ late order struggled to connect.
So it was that they managed to restrict their hosts below the psychological 200-mark at Pukekura Park to 181 for eight — leaving a required run rate of just over nine per over.
It would prove the difference, that sudden drop-off, and the Knights knew a good start would go a long way to further decreasing the pressure.
Opening the chase was the competition’s leading run-maker in Tim Seifert (above), but it was initially Devcich who looked for the fast start.
He slammed 21 off 10 balls against the opening spin/pace combo of Ben Wheeler and Ajaz Patel before Wheeler struck, Worker collecting the catch on the short leg-side boundary in a tit for tat moment.
There would be a few twists and turns yet in this crunch and intriguing encounter, but Seifert (47 off 36) and Dean Brownlie (34 off 13) ensured the next five overs ran smoothly, rapidly taking control of the required equation.
Seifert showed good composure before he was bowled by the giant-killer Bevan Small just one stroke shy of a half century, but at 111 for three the Knights now had almost nine overs up their sleeve to find just 72 further runs, and plenty more hitting artillery with Brett Hampton and Daniel Flynn at the crease.
The return of Patel into the Stags’ attack again saw a slower bowler profit, the spinner snaring two wickets in an over to give the crowd a breath of hope.
Daryl Mitchell at seven, however, meant the Knights had a class backstop, and his quick unbeaten 30 off 13 balls saw him and Daniel Flynn run off the park as the victors, the five-wicket win bagged with two overs to spare and propelling the northern raiders to a two-point lead at the top of the points table.
After going 1-1 in their back-to-back encounters with the Knights, the Central Stags will be looking to get back on track at Pukekura Park in the new year, hosting the Aces in a televised encounter on 4 January while the Knights head to Otago next to play the Volts on 2 January.