On a perfect New Year’s Eve afternoon at Pukekura Park the Central Stags could begin celebrating early after locking in a home 2017 McDonald’s Super Smash Final, with a whole round to spare.
They had overwhelmed the Kings for the second time at the ground this season, this time by 27 runs — an ocean in the circumstances — after another Ross Taylor bomb show had dominated their efforts batting first.
Captain Will Young had won the toss and backed his all-star batting line-up against a challenging Kings attack that got off to a tidy start, just six runs and a wicket coming from the opening two overs.
The wicket was that of Mahela Jayawardena — a big prize for young quick Ed Nuttall who would later go on to add Dane Cleaver and Josh Clarkson to his impressive 3-25.
It wasn’t the only early wobble for the Stags, Young falling to Kyle Jamieson the very next over, straight after booming the first six of the day.
But from 17/2, opener George Worker was joined by Taylor and the pair steadily built up the momentum over the ensuing seven overs.
Worker was crisp and effective, and on the cusp of what would have been his first half century of the competition when Henry Nicholls pouched a catch off Todd Astle to end his 31-ball 49, and the third wicket stand at 78.
The launchpad was in place, now, for Taylor and Tom Bruce who combined well to punch a battery of sixes off the next couple of overs in a lightning quick 50-stand. Taylor sent Astle away for two sixes in the 14th over, the first of them raising his half century, off 35 balls.
So much of the game was an uncanny action replay of their match two days earlier at the same ground, against the Aces; Taylor charging on to a 50-ball 80 before he was run out in the penultimate over.
Nuttall zeroed in with Andrew Ellis at the death to add to his tally, but the late flurry didn’t stop the Stags from hitting 190 for eight.
The Kings, still fighting to make the Finals, began their reply with a hiss and a roar as Cam Fletcher belted twin boundaries off Brisbane Heat import Luke Feldman’s first over before cracking two more and a six for good measure off Seth Rance.
Seventeen had just flown off the third when the introduction of Ryan McCone — one of four players in the match from the same alma mater, St Andrew’s — resulted in the paceman removing his former schoolmate Henry Nicholls, whose 23 had come from just nine deliveries: 47/1.
Then Feldman broke through next over, then Rance, a big cheer going up as influential Kings captain Andy Ellis was lost early. The Kings stalled. The Stags rallied. George Worker sent down another economical set with his spin through the middle.
Then, in another of those déja vu moments, Blair Tickner produced the surely rare feat of a second wicket maiden in the space of two T20s. Who even does that?
Ken McClure was the wicket, leaving the Kings 72/4 after nine — and now slipping behind on the comparison scores after such a boisterous start.
The Stags’ back 10 with the ball was ruthless as they restricted the remaining threats and chipped out their wickets.
Seth Rance became the competition’s leading wicket-taker this season when he picked up Astle, then stopped Cole McConchie (36 off 20) for good measure, both caught off a key 16th over.
He would end with figures of 4-27 off just 3.1 overs, and the Stags scored a bonus wicket when Kyle Jamieson accidentally sent his bat flying in the 19th over, running through batless for a single while Logan van Beek was caught off guard and wound up run out on 23.
McCone had meanwhile picked up his second as they routed the Kings for 163 with five balls to spare on their happy hunting ground, moving to an unassailable 24 points.
The Stags still have one round robin match to play against the Aces in Auckland this Tuesday 3 January before the Grand Final at Pukekura Park, while the Kings now face a must-win at Hagley Oval against the Knights this Monday as one of three teams locked on 16 points, all with an eye on each other. The match is the second act of a doubleheader with the Canterbury Magicians who will take on the Central Hinds from 10.30am.