The cricket season has sadly come to a premature close but not before the second superb 50-Over Final of the year.
Last month the ACES battled through a relentless challenge from the Otago Volts to secure the Ford Trophy. Last Saturday the HEARTS took on the Northern Spirit to try and recapture the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield which they last held two summers ago, and then again two summers before that.
It was a particularly significant occasion for the Spirit. They had only joined the top echelon of the women’s domestic teams in 1999-2000, competing in what was then the State Insurance Cup, and twenty years later this was their first domestic Final. What’s more, as top qualifier they had home advantage.
The HEARTS had enjoyed a spell at the top of the table but they had surrendered that with a couple of less assured performances while several of their senior players were on international duty. Although the WHITE FERNS were back for the Final, it was one of the season’s unsung heroes who helped set up the HEARTS’ victory.
Arlene Kelly first played for Auckland in the 2012-13 season and until this summer the all-rounder, more accustomed to having the new ball in her hand, had never scored a List A half-century. Indeed, in seven seasons with the HEARTS she had compiled 355 runs with a top score of 37.
She started this season batting number eight against Wellington and failing to score, but after the top order lost Lauren Down, Anna Peterson, Katie Perkins and Holly Huddleston to the WHITE FERNS, Kelly was promoted to number three in the order. Here she promptly shared a match-winning record 151-run third-wicket partnership with Regina Lilii to steer her side to an important victory over the Central Hinds. Kelly’s contribution was an unbeaten 93.
In the Final, Kelly joined Down with the score at 24/1 and the pair embarked on a record second-wicket partnership for Auckland of 169. Down fell short of her hundred, out for 90, but Kelly went on to bring up three figures from 110 balls.
When she was eventually out for 110 the HEARTS were 264/3 and Perkins was in the midst of a quick-fire 63 which proved the icing on the cake as her side reached 322/5, a tally they had never exceeded in 50-over cricket. As for Kelly, she had taken her season aggregate to 273, while only being dismissed on five occasions, and she found herself ninth amongst the competition’s top run-getters; Perkins the only one of her teammates ahead of her.
Any thoughts of a routine victory were quickly dispelled by the gutsy and determined home side. Led by captain Felicity Leydon-Davis, a WHITE FERNS representative between 2014 and 2016, the Spirit purposefully set about the chase.
The score was 15/1 when Leydon-Davis came to the crease, and at 148/2 in the 31st over this was still anyone’s game. That was when Jesse Prasad struck to have Kate Anderson caught for 33 and from there wickets fell steadily at one end, while the skipper proceeded relentlessly at the other.
Eventually, after a late flurry of dismissals and the Spirit nine wickets down, Leydon-Davis attempted a tight single that never looked likely and Fran Jonas and Tariel Lamb combined to complete the run-out.
The Spirit had made 255 and Leydon-Davis had made 124 from 120 balls. Such was her domination that Anderson’s 33 was the next best on the scorecard. For the HEARTS, Jonas chose the perfect occasion to deliver the best bowling figures of her young career – her involvement in two run-outs as well meant that she had a hand in half the Spirit wickets.
The expression on her face as the umpire confirmed the final run out spoke volumes for what the day had meant to her and what the victory meant to her team.
A word too for Bella Armstrong, another who began her HEARTS career while she was still at school and now a veteran of five seasons at this level. At the start of this season, the medium-pacer had 28 List A wickets to her name. She now has 52, topping the competition wicket-taking table with 24 dismissals at an average of just under 15 apiece.
Another of the HEARTS’ feats for the season was to set new record partnerships for each of the second, third and fourth wickets. As well as the second and third wicket partnerships in which Kelly was involved, Katie Perkins and Anna Peterson had added an unbeaten 198 against Wellington early in the season, during which they both brought up centuries.
So the venerable Hallyburton Johnstone Shield joins the Ford Trophy in the Auckland Cricket trophy cabinet, alongside the runners-up medals for both the men’s and women’s Dream11 Super Smash competitions. While a fourth placing in the truncated Plunket Shield doesn’t look quite as impressive, the ACES were only three points away from sharing second place in this competition as well. With two rounds still to play a runners-up result was still very realistic.
Congratulations are due Louis Delport who finished with 17 wickets and 7th equal position amongst the season’s top wicket-takers. Mark Chapman finished fifth in the batting aggregates, a list dominated by Devon Conway who finished 202 runs ahead of everybody else.
In third place was the remarkable Greg Hay. The Central Districts 4-day skipper averaged over 40 for the third consecutive season and took his tally of First-Class fifties to 28, on top of another 13 hundreds. His career average remains above 43 – his List A average is also over 40. He has been a remarkable servant of Nelson and Central Districts cricket.
Now stumps are drawn for the season and we all have other concerns top of mind. High on the list is the fervent wish to all the cricket community that we stay well and ride out the storm with as little pain as possible.
We cricketers know that at the start of every winter there is always another season on the horizon to look forward to.