The men’s Dream11 Super Smash qualifiers have been all inked in for 2023/24 after the Canterbury Kings defeated the Wellington Firebirds by 18 runs at the Cello Basin Reserve this evening, knocking out the Central Stags.
The Firebirds and Kings now head to Friday’s sudden death Elimination Final, the location of which will be known after tomorrow's key Otago Sparks-Northern Brave showdown in Dunedin, with the Sparks, Northern Brave and the Central Hinds the three contenders left to contest the women's playoff.
Today’s matchday in the capital meanwhile turned into a dress rehearsal of sorts for the men’s Elimination Final, the Kings moving up to become the official second qualifier, and the Firebirds earning the last spot in the playoff after finishing with a higher net run rate (0.71) than the Stags (0.34), both teams ending on 22 points.
The winner of the Elimination Final will travel on to Sunday’s Grand Final in Auckland where the Auckland Aces will be looking for their first title in this format since 2015/16.
Of the three men's qualifiers, the Firebirds have been more regular champions. They last won the Dream11 Super Smash crown in 2020/21 as back-to-back champions, while the Kings have been regular knockout finalists and impressive in recent years, but have been left empty-handed each time.
They are looking to break a long-running Canterbury drought that stretches all the way back to 2005/06, the very first season of New Zealand's national men's Domestic T20 competition.
Firebirds paceman Adam Milne made a hot start for his side today, conceding just eight runs and a wide from his opening two overs against the Kings’ all-star top order. But the BLACKCAPS quick crucially went wicketless, while the Kings built key, quick partnerships at the top.
Tom Latham, who top-scored with 60 off 49, simply carried on his superb touch from the Kings’ record performance in the previous game.
Latham started by building a 61-run opening stand with Chad Bowes before he was joined by another class act in Henry Nicholls.
Nicholls (below) calmly elevated the scoring rate some more, slamming 52 off 31 in a powerful 84-run stand for the second wicket.
The Firebirds stayed in the fight and eventually pulled it back at the death thanks to allrounders Nathan Smith and Logan van Beek, the latter removing Nicholls at the start of the 18th – and then finishing with a brilliant caught and bowled at the end of the same over. Tom Latham was stopped by a one-handed act of self-preservation, van Beek still flying with the momentum of his follow-through as he stuck up a hand to stop the bullet and turning it into a stunning return catch.
The Firebirds would need 8.95 per over to chase down their target, but couldn't get the same power start, or enough impetus at the death as the asking rate climbed on them.
At 82/2 at the halfway point of the chase, the Firebirds had needed their last 93 runs at 9.3 per over, key man Michael Bracewell (33 off 17) still there and having raced to a 200 strike rate.
But Kings strikeman and rising star Will O’Rourke (2/33) took that huge wicket at the end of the next over, then it was another blow to the Firebirds with Troy Johnson stumped for no score off a Michael Rippon wide at 99/4.
Despite the whole of Central Districts as well as Wellington cheering them on, the Firebirds lost momentum through the middle of the innings, the equation creeping up to more than two runs needed off every ball.
Parsimonious paceman Angus McKenzie (2/28) yorked debutant Gareth Severin (41) at 120/6 in the 16th and, with a further 59 needed off 25 balls, the odds swung into the Kings’ favour while the home side allrounders tried to salvage the chase.
The Stags end up paying dearly for a last-ball tied game in Dunedin on Friday that left them at the mercy of the Kings’ fortunes today, and will now refocus on defending the other two men's titles up for grabs this summer, the one-day Ford Trophy and first-class Plunket Shield.
Earlier, the top qualifier and direct entrant for the women’s title fight, Wellington Blaze, warmed up for the Auckland Grand Final by cruising to a clinical, eight-wicket victory over ousted champion the Canterbury Magicians in their last round of the regular season.
With sister act Melie Kerr and Jess Kerr to the fore yet again, a refreshed Sophie Devine made her first appearance for the Blaze this summer.