For the first time in this McDonald’s Super Smash, the defending champions simply failed to fire.
On paper, it was never going to be that way: the unbeaten Auks versus the winless Wellingtonians. Even after Firebirds captain Hamish Marshall had won the toss in the Basin clash, things started poorly for the hosts, with the still nippy Marshall — and this is uncommon — run out in the first over by his opposing skipper.
But Michael Papps got the ball rolling, his punishing game square of the wicket a good match for the pace of Tymal Mills and Lockie Ferguson. He slammed his first T20 fifty of the summer, an unbeaten 62 off 51 balls — holding the fort with Luke Ronchi after both Tom Blundell and Grant Elliott had followed Marshall quickly back off the park.
At 14 for three, it had hardly looked like the Firebirds were going to break their season duck. The difference was Luke Ronchi’s career best 79 off 39 balls — seven fours and four sixes providing solid home entertainment. He murdered the ball straight back over Mark Chapman’s head more than once, operating a strike rate of more than 200 as he and Papps put on 115 for the fourth wicket — one sizzling recovery, Ronchi and Papps having survived close calls of their own early on.
A total of 173/5 meant the Aces needed eight-plus per over, and with the form their top and middle order had been in, they would have backed themselves to get up. But the Firebirds had other plans.
Paceman Anurag Verma (3-28), coming in for his first game of the season, snapped up the wickets of both captain Rob Nicol and Colin Munro — the latter for 33, which in Munro language is just getting started.
Meanwhile, Brent Arnel (3-31) had already taken care of the young blaster Glenn Phillips, and all of a sudden the Aces were in the unfamiliar territory of being under early pressure.
Munro’s 33 would prove to be their top score as the Firebirds started firing together to make regular breakthroughs, dismissing the mighty Auks for just 140 with a handful of balls to spare.
Finally, the tide had turned — with a massive 33-run victory, no less.
The Aces will get a chance for payback when they host the Firebirds in Auckland on Christmas Eve, then it’s back to the Basin for the Firebirds to take on the Stags on Boxing Day.
Magic moments: Matt Taylor rounded the boundary at long-off before diving and clutching a well hit effort from Mark Chapman just above the ground. Taylor took another screamer on the square leg boundary to remove Munro, juggling the ball as he danced over the boundary rope.