With big hitters and fast bowlers, the Auckland Aces came to Pukekura Park trying to stop the Central Stags from qualifying in a shootout for the final spot.
How it happened
• The Aces took the long route to New Plymouth — literally, after their flight from Auckland had been turned back due to weather the previous day. Rental cars to the rescue, and now, after a brief ground delay, the sun was out, Aces captain Rob Nicol keen to bat first, with a strong line-up supercharged with powerful hitters Colin Munro and Colin de Grandhomme.
• The impressive youngster Glenn Phillips fits the same mould, but was shellshocked by a golden duck, caught behind as Ben Wheeler’s angle and pace did the job again first over of the match for the Stags.
• If it was an omen of things to come, it wasn’t immediately apparent as BLACKCAP Jeet Raval and impressive Sean Solia treated the opening duo with respect — Seth Rance’s opening four overs costing just 16 runs — before moving on to rack up a promising 81-run second-wicket platform. Raval narrowly missed a fifty when he was caught off George Worker, Solia carrying on now alongside Colin Munro.
• Entering the stage at drinks in the 17th, entertainer Munro was always going to be aiming for the road, and there were four sixes as he blasted 62 off just 43 balls. Solia had already shown his own styles in that department.
• Stags captain Will Young brought Rance back on trying to stop the damage: he got hammered for 17 off the over. But golden arm Tom Bruce, coming on in the 26th over and using the cross-breeze to good effect, had some magic up his sleeve and bowled Munro in the 28th to a rowdy cheer from the terraces.
• Of course that only ushered in the other Colin, de Grandhomme and Solia both slamming Bruce for six to take the Aces to 85 for three in the 30th. De Grandhomme nearly broke the window in the Bellringer Pavilion.
• Solia would reach his 50 off 62 balls and surge on to 62, while Grandhomme had just helped rip 13 off Blair Tickner’s 32nd over with some more big hits when Patel struck again, Solia driving the pill straight back into Ajaz Patel, who was fortunate to stop it with his arm. He was turning in a lean, well controlled spell through the middle that broke the Aces’ momentum.
• George Worker had taken a wicket with his first ball when he had picked up Raval: now he came back on in the 37th only to be greeted by Mark Chapman immediately pelting him for six. De Grandhomme was on 37 off 22 balls, poised to make a huge impact. Instead, Worker put himself on a hat-trick, claiming Chapman caught next ball, and then the big wicket of de Grandhomme, the batsmen having crossed.
• Remarkably, Rance came back on then and did exactly the same next over — two balls, two more wickets in Donovan Grobbelaar and Tarun Nethula. The home crowd was ebullient, sensing this was massive.
• Coming in down the order, Nicol would be the last to fall, handing George Worker his second career-best haul in the space of two games, both of them back-end four-fors. This time he’d bagged 4-22, including a wicket maiden with Lockie Ferguson’s departure; and the Aces were all out in the 44th over for a light 237. They’d lost their last five wickets for 12 runs.
• Worker’s luck would run out in the Stags’ reply, the early wicket this time after his marathon century in the previous match. It was payback for Ferguson, but it was the last celebrating the BLACKCAPS quick would do as Jesse Ryder and Will Young got the Stags going, needing fewer than five per over.
• Ryder as usual made batting look easy with his quick hands, plucking seven boundaries and two sixes from the Aces’ attack en route to his 33rd List A fifty, at almost run-a-ball pace. He and Young had a quick 50-run stand by the end of the 15th, and in the 19th were on the cusp of the first Stags hundred when Colin Munro gleefully grabbed a return catch off Ryder: 98/2.
• But by now the Stags needed just 140 from 31 overs, an asking rate of just under five. And, captain Young was looking in total control, sitting on a run-a-ball 43.
• Ross Taylor, playing his first Ford Trophy match in an aeon for the Stags, would be a shock quick exit, having just come off a hundred for the BLACKCAPS; but he would be the last wicket to fall as Tom Bruce joined his Taranaki brother at the crease.
• A boundary off Nethula brought up Young’s 55-ball 50, and with the required run rate dropping the pair could pick their moments to attack.
• Young helped himself to back-to-backs fours off Ferguson, then Bruce launched his first six in the 28th over as the equation dropped below 100 runs. The 50-stand was up in a flash, Young by now on 70. His second List A century would go down as a polished, controlled effort, and he’s racked it up off just 101 balls.
• Still ardently keen on a bonus point (the Volts having achieved the same in Dunedin), they let fly against Munro and Ferguson with a torrent of sixes, Bruce smashing his sixth and final six straight out onto the road to clinch a seven-wicket win inside 40 overs.
• Bruce had finished unbeaten on 70 off just 53 balls, and the unbroken 136-run stand broke the Stags’ second-wicket record against all teams. They had survived what had effectively been two sudden death clashes, were into the final four, and the bonus point had lifted them into third place for the regular season meaning the Stags would now host the 3v4 Qualifying Final at this same ground.
Their opponents in this next sudden death encounter on Saturday 11 February will be ND, the side they had obliterated on this same turf just four days earlier — albeit an ND side missing Ish Sodhi and Corey Anderson, who are now back in the squad. After a blistering start to their campaign, the Aces, meanwhile, would be going home empty-handed this season.