Central Stags beat Wellington Firebirds by 29 runs
Lincoln No.3 Ground, Lincoln
When NZU19 and Canterbury U19 youngster Jesse Frew woke up in the morning, the last thing he expected was to be pulling on a green shirt and playing in a Ford Trophy match for the Central Stags... let alone taking a pivotal catch that may well have been the turning point in a sorely needed victory for the Central men over the Wellington Firebirds.
Riding on the boundary, Frew got under a catch put up by Jimmy Neesham, who was cruising along on a run-a-ball 38 at the time.
Not only did the substitute fielder from another province entirely cause a gettable 252-chase to start wobbling, but he also, in that moment, gave Brad Schmulian a memorable maiden wicket.
Schmulian (below) was on List A debut for the Stags and both he and Frew had been called in as late reinforcements, Schmulian flying in the previous day after both Blair Tickner and Christian Leopard went down with injury two days earlier in Lincoln.
Number one spinner Ajaz Patel also unavailable for the match, the Stags then lost another player for the fielding effort after an awkward Ben Sears delivery saw the ball bounce off Josh Clarkson's gloves and up into his face, while Sears tumbled over himself.
New at the crease at the time, Clarkson carried on batting for half an hour, but would leave the crease after developing symptoms of concussion and play no further role in the match.
Enter Jesse Frew from left field - son of former Canterbury players Robbie Frew and WHITE FERN Lisa Astle, and nephew of Nathan Astle: an all-Canterbury lineage providing an unlikely first appearance in green.
Earlier, Stags captain Tom Bruce had won another toss and batted on the blustery, overcast number three ground.
The Firebirds were coming off an impressive high-scoring win against the Auckland Aces on the same turf, and got the Stags eight-down in their 50 overs for a seemingly below par 251.
George Worker and Dane Cleaver (below) started strongly. Worker - on his way to becoming the season's top run-scorer, despite the Stags still looking for a win at this point - was the one who powered on this time to the cusp of a fast half century - until he was undone by fellow spinner Jeetan Patel at 72 for three in the 15th over.
It was a big blow, and Ben Sears and Logan van Beek had already struck early, but then captain Bruce (below) again produced an important half century - his third in the four matches this season - to keep his side's momentum.
After the concussed Clarkson's departure, some vintage touch from Kieran Noema-Barnett (32, below) gave the run rate a boost.
After Sears had claimed the valuable wicket of Bruce, quirky Brad Schmulian (21 off 32, below) scored quickly on his Ford Trophy debut and batted deep.
The Stags were full of surprises, with a valuable cameo from hard-hitting Ryan Watson who finished unbeaten on a 27-ball 23*. Showing plenty of flourish, Watson was also having his first hit in List A cricket, having neither batted nor bowled on debut in the Stags' first-round washout.
Firebirds Rachin Ravindra and Andrew Fletcher were coming off a record first-wicket stand for the gold-and-blacks, but this time around - such are the whimsies of cricket - they were both back in the hutch inside the first five overs.
Seth Rance got a nick from Fletcher, but Ravindra departed in unlucky fashion, a firm drive from Devon Conway connecting with Rance's boot. A club footballer in the off-season, Rance had no hesitation in kicking it on to the non-striker's stumps to run out dangerous Ravindra on 13.
Was fortune finally smiling on the Stags? Willem Ludick struck another big blow when he bowled Devon Conway to have the Firebirds 49 for three. That was in the 13th over, bringing Neesham together with captain Michael Bracewell and the pair were looking set for a big stand, reaching 71 as they took their side past the midway point of the innings.
Then, that nerveless catch, on the boundary: 120 for four, and a couple more wickets would make this very interesting...
Instead, the Firebirds steadied the ship again. Malcolm Nofal was positive and ushered Bracewell to a half century off 79 balls.
In Patel's absence, Worker and Schmulian had a big role to play with the slow ball, and Worker turned in an invaluable three-for, starting with the crucial removal of Bracewell (66) in the 38th over.
A few overs later he had a couple of dangerous allrounders in Jamie Gibson and Logan van Beek walking back in quick succession, and it was suddenly game on for the Stags once more.
In a cobbled-together attack missing Tickner, Patel and the hospital tentmates Ben Wheeler, Adam Milne and Doug Bracewell, Rance shouldered the burden of closing out the innings. The Firebirds were seven down now, with six overs to get the last 41 runs at just a tad over run-a-ball.
Instead Rance (above) struck three times in the space of four deliveries across his final two overs, blasting out the tail to claim victory with a handful of overs to spare.
Relieved to break their duck, the win propelled the Stags from last to fourth on the table, to keep them in with a chance of making the all-important top three.
They will now meet ND again on the same ground on Friday while the Firebirds will go up against the Otago Volts next door, on Bert Sutcliffe Oval.