The opening McDonald’s Super Smash clash between the Firebirds and Knights was one for the bowlers to enjoy and taking the most pleasure from the match was Knights Daryl Mitchell (4-37) and Ben Laughlin (3-13) who steered their side to a seven-run win in a game jam-packed with action.
Despite their side managing only a below-par 142 on the Seddon Park deck, they stepped up with the ball to restrict the Firebirds to 135/9 and open with a win.
The unlikely hero of the game was Mitchell who had taken one career wicket in all his Twenty 20 cricket before being tossed the ball in the fourth over. A batting allrounder who had contributed just one run with the bat, he made up for it with four vital wickets to help swing a wild game into an unlikely win.
As a result of wickets falling in clumps, no team was ever truly in control of the game for a decent period of time. That was never clearer than in the Knights' innings, where they had looked on track for a very competitive total after being inserted — before a middle-order collapse scuppered those plans.
The opening four batsmen had all made contributions, forming an excellent platform and looking set to accelerate at 100/2.
On Super Smash debut opener Joe Carter showed the right approach, playing aggressively as he exploited the early holes in the field down the ground, as well as over and through the off-side. He smashed the first six of the day, using the pace of Brent Arnel to loft a hook shot into the bleachers. Jade Dernbach got similar treatment – an accidental chest-high slower ball was followed by Carter, who deposited him to three different areas of the ground for a six and two fours.
Carter and Dean Brownlie combined for an opening stand of 48, but when both fell in quick succession it fell to Corey Anderson and Australian import Nathan Reardon to take over. Reardon looked like a fine recruit, displaying an array of well-timed ground strokes as he regularly played late cuts through and behind point.
While the spin duo of Luke Woodcock and Jeetan Patel managed to slow the run rate, Anderson (34 off 27) and Reardon (34 off 24) looked to have placed the Knights in prime position. The Firebirds had different ideas. Patel produced a stunning doosra to bowl Seifert as part of a wicket maiden, before Stephen Murdoch claimed a sprawling catch right on the boundary rope to dismiss Mitchell.
None of the Knights' tail reached double figures, stumps cartwheeling out of the ground as five players were bowled: the Knights lost eight wickets for 42 runs. Each Firebirds bowler picked up at least one scalp, led by Arnel’s 3-21.
The Birds seemed to be cruising towards an easy chase as they reached 28/0 from three overs, but Mitchell turned the match in one over. He claimed the wickets of Hamish Marshall and Michael Papps in consecutive balls, and should have made in three in four when Tom Blundell was dropped in the deep by Zak Gibson. Blundell got another life when Laughlin put him down at long on – chances which proved pivotal when the Firebirds batsman got into a groove.
Blundell was the mainstay as wickets tumbled around him – Mitchell claiming two more and Jono Boult bowling the dangerous Luke Ronchi. Laughlin was providing superb line and length, and produced a wicket maiden which looked to have sealed a Knights victory.
However, facing a run rate of more than 10, Blundell kept swinging, with a ramp for six bringing up his 50, and a booming straight six the following ball reducing the target to just 24 required off 14 balls. He would reduce that equation to 15 from seven before Laughlin took the pivotal wicket – Blundell departing for 63; 50 runs more than the next best Firebird!
Dernbach produced a late boundary to keep the pressure on, but 19-year-old T20 debutant Gibson held his nerve to rattle his stumps and give the Knights a winning start to the season.
After Gibson and Laughlin both shelled Blundell in the deep, they made up for their missed chances. Laughlin provided steady bowling at the death, as did Gibson who also made a strong low catch to eventually remove Blundell. Carter also made a classy grab in the field, while former Knights wicketkeeper Peter McGlashan showed his skills are still present with a sharp crowd catch while sitting at the corporate tables.