Wellington Firebirds pip Central Stags in high-scoring Super Smash thriller

At Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North: Wellington Firebirds 214-6 (Nick Kelly 58 off 25, Troy Johnson 35 off 29, Finn Allen 33 off 20; Tom Bruce 2-27 off 4, Jayden Lennox 2-38 off 4) beat Central Stags 212-7 (Tom Bruce 56 off 23, Josh Clarkson 55 off 25, Dane Cleaver 44 off 32; Rachin Ravindra 3-42 off 4) by 2 runs.

Whirlwind knocks from Tom Bruce and Josh Clarkson that could have been match winners on any other day were not enough for Central Stags, as Wellington Firebirds got home in a men’s T20 Super Smash thriller in Palmerston North.

Chasing a lofty 215 for victory, Bruce and Clarkson’s blistering half-centuries left them needing 17 for victory off Black Caps speedster Adam Milne’s final over at Fitzherbert Park on Tuesday.

They got 14 of them, with an incredible piece of fielding from Troy Johnson, then a cool-headed run out from Logan van Beek ensuring the Firebirds start the season 2-0 with a two-run win.

Johnson leapt high at long on as Bruce’s shot sailed over the rope, batting it back mid-air and saving his side four vital runs. Then, with four needed for victory off the final two balls, van Beek swooped at long-off as Bruce hared back for a second, the Dutch international’s throw running the Stags’ skipper out for 56 off 23 (four sixes).

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Then Brett Johnson, Troy’s older brother on T20 debut, couldn’t get Milne’s final ball away with three required, the run out securing the Wellington side victory in another heart-stopper. Earlier, Brett dismissed his brother di lui for 35 in a memorable start, having moved from the capital to chase opportunities with the Stags.

It should never have been that close, as Rachin Ravindra’s spin (3-42) looked to have closed it out with plenty to spare.

Wellington celebrate victory over Central Stags after Adam Milne's final over.

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Wellington celebrate victory over Central Stags after Adam Milne’s final over.

The left-armer dismissed Dane Cleaver, Ross Taylor and then the big one, Clarkson (55 off 25, three sixes), lbw in the same over he’d clouted a monster strike onto Fitzherbert Ave.

Taylor’s struggles continued on return to domestic cricket, following scores of 0, 0, 39 not out and 0 in Ford Trophy with 5 off 9 deliveries as Ravindra turned one past the outside edge to shatter his stumps.

The damage was done early by Firebirds openers Finn Allen and Nick Kelly who rattled up 80 off 5.5 overs. Black Caps opener Allen clouted four sixes in his breezy 33 off 20 before he mistimed to short fine leg.

Kelly looked a class act from ball one, mixing a reverse lap for six with classical cover drive for four off successive Doug Bracewell deliveries as the veteran international eventually conceded 57 off his four overs.

After notching 50 off 22, the left-hander looked in complete control before he was removed for 58 by Bruce’s spin. Momentum slowed against Bruce and left-arm spinner Jayden Lennox who snared two wickets apiece before Milne and van Beek unleashed late.

Van Beek compounded a day to forget for Bracewell with five successive boundaries in a final over which went for 25 and proved very costly for the Stags.

Josh Clarkson winds up for Central Stags against Wellington Firebirds.

Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Josh Clarkson winds up for Central Stags against Wellington Firebirds.

Big moment

Bruce on strike in full flight against Milne in the final over, sending another one soaring over the rope before Johnson flew to pluck it out of thin air and save four vital runs. With the final margin just two, it was the match-winning play Wellington desperately needed.

Best with the bat

Kelly gets the decision, just, again showing what a key acquisition he was from Otago. Bruce and Clarkson tied for a very close second, doing everything but spur their side to an unlikely victory.

Best with the ball

Not many bowlers could hold their heads up but Ravindra had the most success and his three wickets were all crucial ones, especially Clarkson as the left-armer wasn’t scared to toss the ball up under fire.

Big picture

The unbeaten Firebirds end the year in pole position, as they head to Christchurch to face last season’s beaten finalists the Canterbury Kings on New Year’s Day. The Stags, meanwhile, eye a double header at Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, against the Kings on Friday and Northern Brave on Saturday.

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