When The Ford Trophy’s double defending champs lost a tight one in round one, it could be written off as a false start. But then the Stags didn’t bounce back in their first home game in Napier against a familiar foe as the Firebirds stayed unbeaten...
How it happened
• It was a sweltering day in Napier, 30 degrees, windy and almost Queensland-like in its humidity — an unusual recipe for the Bay. Home captain Will Young won the toss and was pleased to bat, but it wouldn’t prove to be easy going on a deck that turned out to be two-paced.
• Jesse Ryder had moved up to open the batting as Ben Smith carried the drinks, and pace bowler Navin Patel came in on Ford Trophy debut for the Stags. Ryder and Worker made a decent start with the bat, Ryder collecting the first couple of boundaries of the day off Hamish Bennett and Brent Arnel respectively, then the first six off the former in just the eighth over. Worker had started to lift the run rate, too, peeling three consecutive boundaries off a frustrated Arnel as the opening duo searched in vain for a breakthrough.
• The Stags’ pair had just ticked off a 50-partnership in 56 balls when things began to unravel dramatically. First change Anurag Verma tempted Worker into a catch off his second over. Then he quickly added two further big wickets in Young (who played on) and Tom Bruce (caught) in quick succession.
• Ryder had been holding it together, but he was furious with himself when he then misjudged and spaded a simple catch off Jeetan Patel to Verma at cover just two overs later, Ryder gone for a measured 33 (having added just two further runs since the fall of Bruce) and the Stags now 74 for four in the 18th, looking out of sorts.
• Dane Cleaver and Josh Clarkson formed a fresh duo at the crease, both yet to get off the mark. Verma, meanwhile, had gone for just 12 runs off his first five overs and had picked up three wickets, a maiden among them. The spinners took over and Patel kept up the pressure, going for just 11 runs off his first five overs.
• When he was changed out, Clarkson and Cleaver started to get some oxygen and tapped a couple of much needed boundaries. Cleaver then boomed a six off Luke Woodcock as they put the 100 on the board together in the 27th over and reached their 50-stand in 73 balls.
• Cleaver unleashed next ball with another six, this time off Patel, as they looked to lift the Stags up in the last 20 overs. But Patel was proving mostly too good to get away, then the stand broke first ball of the 34th as Luke Woodcock picked up a qicket maiden with Cleaver.
• At drinks, the Stags weren’t much further along: 143 for five. Clarkson boomed a six to raise the 150 as Verma came back into the attack, but the Stags were about to pay again with the wicket of Ben Wheeler in the same over: four for 29 for Verma, now, and a double strike by Hamish Bennett next over to have the Stags in disarray at 167 for eight inside 40 overs.
• Bennett’s carnage brought Patel to the crease, the number 10 faced with seeing out 10.1 overs on debut. He had Clarkson alongside him on 54 — the 19-year-old’s second Ford Trophy half century in two games, while Hamish Marshall brought back Arnel to try to mop it up with Bennett.
• Patel fended, awkwardly at first, but survived. Clarkson boomed another one of his sixes off Verma, before sending up a high caught and bowled at the end of the same over to gift Verma a well deserved maiden List A five-for. Clarkson was gone for 68; now the Stags still had five overs to see out, no wickets in hand, and Blair Tickner joining Patel to do the best they could.
• The tailenders withstood everything the Firebirds could throw at them to add another 27 runs between them and see it through to the end, the Stags completing at 212 for nine.
• Needing RPO 4.26, the day began to cool down and the wind dropped as the Stags took the ball. Batting still wasn’t easy — Ben Wheeler delivering two maidens in his first spell, but Michael Papps slowly got the Firebirds going, while Tom Blundell — promoted to open — struggled to find his timing.
• Papps had already raced to 40 when Worker broke through with Blundell’s wicket, bowling him for a 21-ball innings that netted just four runs. Thanks to Papps, however, the remaining batsmen needed only to find a further 168.
• Papps would be Worker’s next victim, immediately after reaching an industrious half-ton. Worker and Kain then built some pressure and Tom Bruce kept it up in a three-prong spin attack before Seth Rance came back on to york Stephen Murdoch on 24: 106 for three. Marshall fell five balls later to Worker, triggering a particularly lean patch with only eight runs flowing from the next five overs.
• Scott Borthwick inched along to his 40 before he was caught by Worker, who pulled off a stunning, flying grab to stop him. The catch was off a thrilled Blair Tickner and the very same combination struck again later in the same over to quickly take care of dangerous hitter Matt Taylor.
• By now the Firebirds had lost their early run rate advantage and were following a near indentical trajectory to the Stags’ innings. Luke Woodcock, batting alongside Borthwick, had started cautiously as well, his former life as an opening batsman invaluable in the conditions.
• The Stags, meanwhile, had worked themselves into a position where they now had a sniff at the 40-over mark, lifted by the quick wickets, the Firebirds six down. Woodcock, on 25*, was key. It was tight. This was not the time for rash behaviour or rushes of blood to the head. The Firebirds needed 48 runs off 48 balls. Then 30 off 30. Eighteen off 18.
• They caught a break by the way of Ben Wheeler being unable to close out the innings — he had left the field temporarily with back soreness. Woodcock steadily soldiered on, raising his second half century of the competition: he had been out there for an hour and 40 minutes.
• Now, just eight from 12 was needed. Five from nine. Safe enough: Woodcock gave it a heave and won the match in style, with his only six, eight balls to spare. The Firebirds had gone two from two while the Stags were still yet to get a win.
The Stags head to Seddon Park on Sunday to look for victory against unpredictable Northern Districts while the high-flying Firebirds fly back to the Basin to host the other unbeaten side, the Aces. Matches start at 11am.