Hamish Marshall’s Wellington Firebirds have pulled of a sensational comeback in the 2016/17 McDonald’s Super Smash.
From winless and last after three rounds, to facing an Elimination Final against a side that had beaten them back-to-back in the regular season, the veterans made it Cinderella-style to their second Grand Final in the space of three seasons after keeping out the Canterbury Kings in a close shave at the Basin Reserve.
Despite a good start the win was far less comfortable than they would have liked, or even expected, after having lost a clutch of wickets through the back ten as they chased after the Kings’ 151 for seven.
Earlier, when their openers strode out, it had all looked so easy. Hard-hitting Michael Papps and an entertaining Marshall, pulling out all his clever shots, set to work with a 73-run opening stand that wasn’t prised apart until the 11th over.
Then nerves seemed to set in as a sterling effort from Todd Astle, who caught and bowled both Marshall (36 off 20) and dangerous Tom Blundell (below; 23 off 22) in his 3-18, helped the Kings get back in the game, as did Matt Henry when he knocked over Grant Elliott’s stumps.
But the most brilliant moment in the field came from Chad Bowes, who fired the ball at the stumps to run out aggressive Michael Pollard for just one run.
At 110 for five in the 13th, big pressure was all of a sudden on the Firebirds to get up, and they would lose two further wickets at the death as a crowded Basin held its breath, and the coach sat on the edge of his seat.
However, in Luke Woodcock and Jeetan Patel they had two vastly experienced players who knew how to keep their head — and, with the winning runs ticked off by Woodcock with four balls to spare, it’s the resurgent Birds who will now head to New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park on Saturday to face the Central Stags in the 2017 McDonald’s Super Smash Grand Final.
Earlier, the Kings fell short of par after deciding to bat first, losing Tom Latham early.
It was Bowes (above) who gave them a decent start with a 41-ball 56 before he was bowled by Elliott, all while the Firebirds were still kicking themselves for having already let him off with their looseness in the field.
Henry Nicholls (a run-a-ball 34) and Peter Fulton (33 off 23) were the next best contributors for the Kings, who were chastened by an outstanding white ball exhibition from both Hamish Bennett (3-18) and Jeetan Patel (2-22).
It may have gone down to the last three wickets, and the last over, but against a gettable target the Firebirds got the job done.
They will now face off in one last clash with the table-topping Stags where there will be a $100,000 purse on the line.