Marty Kain instinctively brought his hands to his sternum as the catch stuck. The stunning, reflex caught and bowled may have stung his finger and sent him from the field, but it pretty much finished off the Mighty Ape Wellington Firebirds on a calm summer’s evening at Napier’s McLean Park.
The victim was useful Firebirds number five Michael Pollard, who’d been brought back into the side alongside Alecz Day and had put up a fighting 34-ball 44, until that moment — one that plunged the visitors to 113/7 with just under five overs to go as they vainly went after the Stags’ 165/9.
Devon Hotel Central Stags skipper George Worker had opted to bat when he won the toss and, while the Firebirds indicated they would have bowled regardless, Worker ensured the Stags got off to the healthier start as he and Mahela Jayawardene briskly slathered on 48 for the opening wicket.
For the first time in the competition Jayawardene departed without a half century, but got a rousing burst of applause regardless from an appreciative Harris Stand after he was caught off Anurag Verma.
Star turn Verma went on to take a career-best 4-27 off his four overs after picking up a stunning three wickets in the 19th over — Adam Milne surviving his hat-trick ball after the young paceman stopped man of the match Tom Bruce on 54, then smashed through Bevan Small’s castle, and got Kain caught for good measure off the final ball of his over, the latter both departing with golden ducks.
Earlier, Luke Woodcock had struck an important blow when he bowled Worker on 30.
But notwithstanding the flurry of late wickets the Firebirds never quite get on top of the Stags as they belted their way to par in their last home match of the regular season.
As in the opening game of the competition, big-hitting Bruce’s penchant for quick runs helped their cause, and this time it produced a win — which the Stags desperately needed to stay mathematically alive.
Seven boundaries and two sixes went in the scorebook against Bruce’s name — helping set an asking rate of 8.3 per over from the start from the Firebirds.
The Wellingtonians were up against a moving ball in the hands of a fired-up Milne (2-18), who relished his contests with Stephen Murdoch (albeit briefly) and Luke Ronchi in particular.
But it would be Seth Rance (2-24), who backed him up beautifully at the other end, who would take out Murdoch as he played on for a duck, having already yorked Tom Blundell first ball of the over.
Dangerman Ronchi put up a fight with his 22-ball 42, supported by Pollard. But when the BLACKCAP was pocketed by Bruce, off Kain (2-19), right on the haflway mark of the chase, at 78/5 the Firebirds found the pressure would only escalate.
Despite Mitchell Claydon permitting a boost of 23 runs off his first over, they were finished off with an over to spare for 132, at a deficit of 33 runs.
The Stags now head to Hagley Oval to take on the Canterbury Kings at home on Super Smash Sunday. Both sides not only need to win the match to stay alive, but must pray for other results to fall their way — and, the Kings will be bolstered by Sydney Thunder acquisitions Michael Hussey and Shane Watson.
The SBS Bank Otago Volts and Mondiale Auckland Aces are further up the table with the SKYCITY Northern Knights (who, like the Kings and Stags, currently sit on 18 points) having a shot at the Aces at Seddon Park tonight, before heading to the Mount on Sunday.