The Mighty Ape Wellington Firebirds have got off to a winning start in defence of their Georgie Pie Super Smash title, getting away with a slippery performance in the field that saw a bagful of chances go begging.
A muggy Hagley Oval brightened up after early light rain reduced the match to 15 overs per side — long enough for the Canterbury Kings to set their visitors a target of 135 at RPO nine per over.
It was a dramatic beginning with Brent Arnel having Cameron Fletcher "caught" in the slips in the second over — but Arnel's knee had brushed the non-striker's stumps en route, resulting in a no ball. Not out! To add insult to injury, the maestro followed up with a wide on the free hit, then suffered the agony of Ronnie Hira being grassed on nine off his final ball of a frustrating over.
Arnel soon atoned with Fletcher's wicket after the young keeper-batsman flicked a legside catch to Stephen Murdoch, one of the few that stuck amid a contagion of the dropsies from an assortment of his teammates throughout the innings.
Peter Fulton had been dropped on 12 — a simple catch after he awkwardly offered up a leading edge, then with the let-off raced away to a 15-ball 25 before suffering the double misfortune of slamming the ball into his foot and being stumped off Luke Woodcock, who with Jeetan Patel had turned up the control dial through the middle.
Kings captain Ronnie Hira proved hard to dislodge, however, as he looked to play a typically aggressive role and top-scored for his team with a 36-ball 44, but new Firebird Anurag Verma pegged him back at a critical moment.
Paceman Verma’s wily 12th over cost just a wide, the only blemish in what would otherwise have been a wicket maiden as he yorked a frustrated Hira mid-set.
After having chugged to 134/5 in their 15 overs, the Kings started well with the ball, until Firebirds captain Michael Papps unleashed his feet to help peel 21 off the third over, finding two sixes and two boundaries as he went toe to toe with Hamish Bennett.
Spinners Todd Astle and Hira emulated the Patel/Woodcock double act and chastened the strike rate through the middle, to keep the Kings in with a sniff at the death. Papps (39 off 22) fell to Astle's second over, trying to charge a flatter delivery — only to be stumped in a rare miss.
Murdoch looked in sublime touch, taking to Astle in the 10th over and then sweetly timing another six off Andrew Ellis over the legside in the follow-up.
When Craig Cachopa (37 off 32) was run out off the last ball of the penultimate over, after having accidentally tangoed with bowler Logan van Beek as he turned, and losing his balance; the Firebirds still needed to find a further 14 runs off the normally exacting Ellis’s last over.
But Ellis missed his length while the class of Murdoch (Cricket Express MVP for the Firebirds with an unbeaten 40 off 23) eased the pressure by slotting Ellis’s first ball for six. Then, off Ellis’s third death over delivery, Matt Taylor slugged him for another six — the first ball Taylor had faced.
The last-over heroics had taken the last stand to 14 off four balls, and saw the Firebirds snatch the seven-wicket win with two balls to spare.
Georgie Pie Super Smash resumes on Wednesday evening when the Devon Hotel Central Stags will meet the Mondiale Auckland Aces at New Plymouth’s Yarrow Stadium, LIVE on SKY Sport. Get your Georgie Pie Super Smash tickets online and go in the draw to win a Ford Fiesta Trend Manual*