A Jimmy Neesham century was the deciding factor between the Auckland Aces and the Wellington Firebirds in the Elimination Final at Eden Park Outer Oval today.
The clouds looked as though they might move in when the Aces won the toss and opted to bat. That wan’t to be, however, as the day wore on and it turned into a glorious summer day.
The decision to bat wasn’t well rewarded, as Ben Horne, Sean Solia, and Craig Cachopa were all dismissed by Ollie Newton in the first 10 overs.
Colin Munro was joined by BLACKCAPS teammate Mark Chapman – then just as Munro began to look for the boundary rope, Newton struck again. Munro stood his ground as the Firebirds appealed for caught behind. After a protracted deliberation, the umpire put his finger up and Munro was gone.
After 10 overs, the Aces were 44/4, and Newton was looking extremely good.
Robbie O’Donnell was next in, pushing singles with Chapman as the pair both waited for Newton to be taken off.
Jimmy Neesham came on from the other end and Chapman hit him for four in his first over. Then tried for a pull shot and a great catch from Lauchie Johns sent him back to the sheds.
Graeme Beghin and Robbie O’Donnell were two new batsmen in the middle, and at 58/5, the Aces final hopes could have been thoroughly extinguished.
Instead, Beghin and O’Donnell combined to build an impressive 100-run partnership. Beghin in particular played some shots that would have had the classicists in raptures. Two straight drives went for six, and he brought up his 50 with a four.
O’Donnell also played himself in and together with Beghin ran ones and twos hard and hit the gaps when Wellington left them.
The Firebirds brought Newton back at the 35-over mark, looking to break the partnership.
Instead, Peter Younghusband was the one who made the breakthrough. Beghin had given Younghusband some tap earlier in his spell, but he was able to snaffle him caught behind when Beghin was on 69.
Two overs later, O’Donnell, whose batting had been exceptionally patient as his score lingered in the 40s, hit Younghusband for six for bring up 50 runs. The next ball he drove to the left of Hamish Bennett who stretched a long arm out and took the catch.
In his last over, Newton got his five-wicket bag as Roneel Hira chopped on.
Some hitting from Danru Ferns and Matt McEwan was required to get the Aces over the 200 mark and past 45 overs.
Going out to defend 236 was always going to require some aggression from the Aces. Ben Lister delivered it from his first ball. With three shouts turned down, on the last ball of the first over he dismissed Andrew Fletcher, caught behind for two.
Jakob Bhula came out, and then returned to the sheds for 5 as Lister struck again. The Aces got their tails up, and the Firebirds needed to consolidate.
Devon Conway and Michael Bracewell played their parts admirably. After 10 overs the Firebirds were 41/2, and the Aces needed another wicket to keep the pressure on.
It took another 8 overs to get it, when Hira was brought on and in his second over had Conway caught and bowled for 42. Neesham joined Bracewell and the Firebirds began to accelerate.
Lister struck again in the 26th over when he came back to try and break the burgeoning stand between Neesham and Bracewell. The Aces removed Bracewell for 41 and clearly felt like they were back in the game.
Munro came into the attack in the 34th over and helped keep the strike rate down before getting the breakthrough with Nofal’s wicket, caught and bowled at 179/5. Younghusband joined Neesham in the middle.
Younghusband then became the sixth man down just five balls later, trapped by Matt McEwan.
With a boundary off Hira, Neesham posted his century off 94 balls, now with just 24 runs remaining for victory. Three balls later he lost his new partner, Johns run out for six.
Coming down to the last two overs – a point no one would have expected with the situation the Aces were in earlier in the match.
However, the final six came of Ferns, hit by Neesham onto the concourse as if to make sure the result wasn’t in doubt. He finished on 120 not out, and the Firebirds booked their place in the Ford Trophy final.
Image credit: Photosport.co.nz