From without a point in their first four games.... to 2017 McDonald’s Super Smash Champions!
The Wellington Firebirds completed a remarkable season turnaround at a brimming Pukekura Park on Saturday, triumphing over the top-seeded Central Stags by 14 runs to claim the trophy.
Victors for the second time in three years, the Firebirds spoiled the hopes of a sellout Stags' home crowd, and took home the majority share of the $100,000 purse.
A belligerent 48 not out from Matt Taylor and stifling, all-round bowling performance were the catalysts for the Firebirds' victory, who overcame a stuttering start after being asked to bat first.
Stags' seamer Blair Tickner was devastating with the ball early on, accounting for three of the Firebirds' top five batsmen and finishing with figures of 4-34.
In just the second over, Tickner earned himself a hat-trick opportunity. Mistimed shots from Firebirds skipper Hamish Marshall and recently named BLACKCAP Tom Blundell saw them both depart for ducks, although Grant Elliott denied Tickner what would have been a memorable third scalp in a row.
George Worker maintained the pressure when he saw to it that both Michael Papps and Luke Woodcock perished in the deep. At 80/5, the Firebirds were in dire need of a significant partnership.
The depth and experience in the Firebirds line-up would eventually be telling. Eighth wicket duo Matt Taylor (48*) and Jeetan Patel (28*) combined for seven sixes and an unbeaten stand of 58, swatting the Stags for more than 12 runs apiece in the final four overs.
The impact of that late surge was magnified early in the Stags’ pursuit when a Brent Arnel bouncer sent Sri Lankan all-time great Mahela Jayawardena on his way for nought.
Troubles compounded for the Stags in the following two overs as they lost both Worker and Jesse Ryder.
Ben Smith (27) and Will Young (24) steadied things for the hosts, but at the cost of the required run rate that was steadily climbing. Further wickets increased the size of the task in front of them and, with 5.1 overs remaining, the Stags needed 78 runs with just three wickets in hand.
Josh Clarkson swung the willow defiantly until the end, but his unbeaten 53 off 31 balls couldn’t stop Firebirds captain Hamish Marshall from lifting the 2017 McDonald’s Super Smash trophy.
Leading overall 2016/17 wicket-taker, 15 wickets: Seth Rance (Central Stags), Brent Arnel (Wellington Firebirds)
Leading overall 2016/17 run-scorers: Glenn Phillips, 369 (Auckland Aces), Mahela Jayawardena, 367 (Central Stags)