Thrilling last-over finishes have been the hallmark of this season’s McDonald’s Super Smash and once again it went down to the wire as the Aces and Firebirds clashed big-time in round six.
Gutsy, brilliant batting was a feature from both teams — yet so was trouble early doors, both teams having got off to a shocker of a start before a spectacular middle order recovery.
In front of an ebullient crowd at the always spectator-friendly Outer Oval, Firebirds captain Hamish Marshall had opted to bat first, but he was the first casualty when he was caught in the first over off a delighted Aces skipper Rob Nicol.
Two for one soon became three for 20 and when Grant Elliott fell as well, caught cheaply off Nicol again, the home crowd reckoned everything was going to plan.
Enter Michael Pollard. Joining Tom Blundell, the pair started blasting around the park and out of it, Pollard popping the ball into the famous petrol station on the other side of Sandringham Road. Blundell, batting at four, showed all his impeccable yet power-packed shots as he rocketed to 61 off 41 balls, while Pollard (eight sixes, two fours) was even more brutal in his 36-ball 74.
For the best part of 10 overs, they stormed the crease in a 116-run partnership that was finally busted apart in the 17th over when young Michael Barry finally got a catch to fly from Pollard, then the often challenging Tarun Nethula got one through Blundell’s castle next over.
But the damage was done, and the Aces would have to chase down a testing 182/9.
The Firebirds had already been the first and only side to beat the Aces this season, so perhaps we shouldn’t put too much store on the fact that this was still the bottom-placed side taking on the frontrunners.
The Aces had brought in Michael Guptill-Bunce to partner the explosive Glenn Phillips at the top of the order, but they lost both men inside the first two overs of the reply as the Birds attack fired up, Luke Woodcock and Elliott striking.
Then, just as in the earlier innings, a big stand changed the picture. Captain Rob Nicol led the cause with a 52-ball 68, putting on 45 with a game Jeet Raval before the dynamo that is Mark Chapman came in and started thrilling the crowd all over again with his exciting style.
Chapman stood on the accelerator and belted two sixes and four fours in his 30-ball 54, sharing an 89-run with Nicol as they went for it.
It was a huge moment in the 17th over when the combined forces of bowler Brent Arnel and Elliott, who until then had had a miserable time in the field, sent dangerous Chapman packing, but Nicol was still there and had the wiles and experience to keep his side on track as the pressure went up.
He made it to the second ball of the last over before Jeetan Patel got him lbw, the acid now on Ben Horne and Sean Solia all of a sudden. Solia had already delivered with a huge six the previous over to make the necessary equation 11 from the 20th, then Nicol had sent Patel to the boundary first ball.
But the wicket was the turning point in a brilliant contest, seven runs needed off the last four balls but the vastly experienced spinner Patel just too good at the death, conceding only singles as they Firebirds closed out a spectacular two-run victory.
The Birds now head home to the Basin Reserve to play the Central Stags on Boxing Day afternoon in what’s sure to be another epic contest, while the Aces head to the Mount to face the Knights on the 27th.