After a run of close finishes, the Central Stags showed they were not to be toyed with in front of a strong Boxing Day crowd at a sunny Basin Reserve.
They dominated the game from start to finish to make it two out of two against the Wellington Firebirds — whose primary undoing had been with the bat, despite winning the toss and taking first use of a good deck.
The Firebirds should not have been underestimated: they have been the only team to down the strong Aces, after all — and they did that twice. The Stags and the Aces have been neck and neck at the head of the table all through the first seven rounds, but it was the Stags who now went ahead thanks to a comfortable six-wicket win.
"It was a disappointing result that really came off the back of our batting letting us down — and it's the first time this season that I've said that about our performance with the bat,” said coach Bruce Edgar, whose side now faces a tough challenge to make the playoffs.
"Without a solid total to defend, it was difficult for our bowlers to build enough pressure.”
That total was 133 and they’d been dismissed with four balls to spare by the Stags, who had already been in the news that day with maiden BLACKCAPS Twenty20 squad selections proffered to Tom Bruce and Ben Wheeler on the back of their sizzling McDonald’s Super Smash form.
After Seth Rance had sent Michael Papps home scoreless in the first over and Ryan McCone had followed suit by bowling Hamish Marshall, it was a team effort from the Stags attack as they scythed through the capital line-up.
George Worker arguably made the biggest impact when he had the dangerous Tom Blundell caught on 20, then popped back to pick up both Michael Pollard — fresh off a devastating innings against the Aces — and Matt Taylor, bowling them both in the space of three balls in the 12th over.
Wheeler and Worker then combined to run out Luke Woodcock, Grant Elliott remaining to give the Firebirds fans some hope.
He had reached 39 off 32 balls and was looking to give the Firebirds some more oomph at the death when Wheeler struck, bowling him in the 19th over, and then claiming Hamish Bennett two balls later for 2-22, showing precsisely why the BLACKCAPS has picked him.
It was the story of the day for the Birds: they just couldn’t get a break.
George Worker backed up his 3-26 with a run-a-ball 32 in an opening stand of 52 with Mahela Jayawardena, who again showed some silky touches before he lost his stump to an ecstatic Bennett in the sixth over.
But by then he had already eased any pressure on the Stags, having clouted five boundaries and two sixes into the bank in a 21-ball 40.
Brent Arnel could take some satisfaction in bowling both classy Will Young and new BLACKCAP Tom Bruce, but that would be the last celebration for the hosts as the deep-batting Stags polished off the run chase in just 16.3 overs. Chances are even the home supporters enjoyed a very watchable display of hitting from under the swathe of red pohutukawa.
The Stags now head home to Pukekura Park for two big contests against the Aces (Dec 29) and Kings (New Year’s Eve), and have been joined by Ross Taylor and experienced Brisbane Heat paceman Luke Feldman to help bolster their stocks.
The singed Firebirds meanwhile now face the Otago Volts tomorrow (Dec 28) in Alexandra.