Ford Trophy Semi-Final: Devon Hotel Central Stags 252 in 48.1 overs (Bruce 88, Cleaver 41, van Wyk 36, Bracewell 45; Duffy 3-44) beat the SBS Bank Otago Volts 203 in 41.5 overs (Redmond 32, Ryder 47, Neesham 38, Craig 44; Worker 3-25, Mathieson 3-52) by 49 runs at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
On paper, the Stags were going to struggle. Soon-to-retire opener Jamie How was unavailable due to his newfound job. Kieran Noema-Barnett, who had been filling a particularly useful role in the injury-hit bowling attack, was out with a foot niggle. The Volts, meanwhile, had all their guns: Jimmy Neesham (albeit playing as a batsman only, as he nurses his back), Neil Wagner, Jesse Ryder, Mark Craig, Hamish Rutherford and their in-form skip Aaron Redmond, who'd been rolling out half-centuries like cookies on a doughboard.
Yet, with two debutants and only 252 runs on the board - not a huge tally at New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, the Devon Hotel Central Stags pulled a rabbit out of the hat to defeat a strong SBS Bank Otago Volts unit by 49 runs in the Ford Trophy Semi-Final — earning themselves a rematch with the Mondiale Auckland Aces at Colin Maiden Park at Sunday’s free entry Grand Final.
Newly inducted Taranaki duo Tom Bruce and Mattie Thomas stood up to the challenge for the Stags, Bruce the top scorer with 88 of 65 balls — his innings instrumental to the Stags posting a defendable score after they had been on the ropes at 107/5 in the 25th over.
After Stags captain Kruger van Wyk had won his first toss in seven games and elected to bat, the Volts had toiled well on a slow pitch in 30-degree heat — but with the bat, they rapidly fell apart. Doug Bracewell took care of both Volts openers before top Ford Trophy wicket-taker Andy Mathieson ripped the heart out of the innings with the wickets of Redmond, Ryder and Neesham, who was well caught by debutant Bruce — none of the Volts’ batsmen passing the half-century mark, despite starts.
Watch some of the Semi-Final action:
How did the 2015 Semi-Final unfold? George Worker tickled two boundaries off Wagner’s opening over to ease local nerves, but it was soon 17/1 as Jacob Duffy, who bowled a tight first spell, made the first breakthrough with David Meiring caught just after having found the boundary himself.
That became two wickets in two overs after young local hotshot Will Young survived a big shout off Wagner, only to nick one behind next ball.
That saw captain van Wyk put himself in the fray with Worker as early as the fifth over, then Dane Cleaver joined him at the end of the 12th after the loss of Worker and continued his positive showing from the Preliminary Final at the same ground a few days earlier.
Cleaver belted the first six of the innings off Sam Wells just after they’d rustled up a 50-run stand, but then lost his batting buddy when Bradley Scott bowled van Wyk in the 23rd over. Enter Tom Bruce, making his Stags and Ford Trophy debut against the experienced ilk of Scott, Craig and Wagner. Despite losing Cleaver, who was stumped on 41 seven balls later, Bruce settled in quickly for a key sixth wicket partnership with Doug Bracewell that gathered more and more momentum as it went on.
Bruce was on 27 when he thumped his first six off the troublesome Scott to move to 33 in the 35th over: it not only brought up their 59-ball 50-run partnership, but seemed to ease the tension. Then he posted his maiden 50 on debut with his second six, again off Scott, off 49 balls in the 41st over, the batting duo now closing in on a hundred partnership - which was duly brought up by a Bracewell boundary, off exactly 100 balls.
After Bracewell was caught next ball, Bruce really put the foot down and raced to 80, at a strike rate over 130. He pumped sixes off everyone from Scott to Craig to Duffy, a half dozen of them in all, until a double strike in the space of three balls during Duffy’s penultimate over put both him and Small back in the pavilion - the Stags 249/8 in the 46th.
Bruce had been caught reaching for the ball just after belting Duffy for his last six, and the rollicking runmaking rapidly fell away now as Wagner and the Volts stormed in to wrap up the innings.
The Volts needed an RPO of 5.06 to win and make the Grand Final, which in any ordinary game at Pukekura Park should not have been daunting. But the Stags this season have not been in the habit of playing ordinary one-dayers.
Marty Kain opened the attack, Wells getting the chase underway with a boundary second ball. But it was boisterous Doug Bracewell who predictably did the early damage, taking out Wells with his second legitimate delivery. The loss of Rutherford in the sixth over - a miscued high ball well taken by Kain into the glaring sun - further rocked the Volts, but they were stunned when Bevan Small got his hands to a tricky caught and bowled to send Michael Bracewell back for golden duck soon after: 16/3.
Ryder joined Redmond in the seventh over, and when he casually pounded four consecutive fours off Mathieson it looked as if the Volts had found their saviour for the day. After 16 overs they were up to 86/3; the Stags had been 59/3 at the same stage. But a double breakthrough with the loss of the captain - rocking the Volts to 98/5 - threw some cold water on the chase. Before long, Derek de Boorder had lobbed up an easy catch to Worker: 113/6 in the 25th.
Neesham broke out under the mounting pressure with a six off Small, but became Bruce's first catch in the 35th over. Drama? Absolutely, and it was intensified as thunder began rumbling in a sweltering, overcast sky that had previously been nothing but a blistering bright blue. Craig was lucky to be dropped by Worker on 27 off Mathieson and after 40 overs, the Volts needed 56 runs off to advance.
All they really had to do was to cling on to their last three wickets, but just as the thunder grew louder, Wagner was run out: eight down. Scott, a capable closer with a big bat at the death, barely made it on the park before the rain arrived, players went off and covers went on. There were still three balls to go in the 41st, the Volts needing 55 runs now.
The late thunderstorm held up play for over half an hour — and with the Stags well ahead on the Duckworth Lewis, the Volts were staring down the barrel should no further play have been possible. However, when the rain cleared, it was only a matter of minutes before the Volts went from 198/8 to being all out for 203 as golden arm spinner Worker took the last two wickets to finish with a useful 3-25.
Stags captain van Wyk has confirmed that opening batsman Jamie How, who was unable to play today due to starting his new job in Palmerston North, will be available for Sunday’s Grand Final at Auckland's Colin Maiden Park, but the squad is yet to be confirmed. If selected, it will be How’s final match for the Stags before he retires from the game.