What happens if Jesse Ryder misses out? We got our answer last night from Wellington's Firebirds, and it wasn't pretty.
Flying along after Ryder-inspired Plunket Shield and Twenty20 victories, the home batsmen were spooked under the Westpac Stadium lights when their opener lasted just four deliveries, caught at cover off the impressive Mitchell McClenaghan (3-18).
The rest could cobble together only 116, which Auckland's Aces knocked off with five wickets and 17 balls to spare in an impressive start to their HRV Cup defence.
Ryder dragged a handful of punters through the gates on a chilly night. But the intrigue was around how his team-mates would cope if he fell.
The dry pitch offered turn, and between Auckland's two decent left-arm quicks and a flurry of spin, the Firebirds had their wings clipped. The jury remains out on the batting, with Michael Papps and Michael Pollard missing out again and Black Caps contender Luke Ronchi continuing his worrying early- season form.
Captain Grant Elliott, stumped for six off Bruce Martin, said 140 would have been competitive after being sent in.
"It was an inability to adapt to that wicket early on and rein it in," he said. But Elliott denied Ryder's dismissal was a catalyst for their collapse to 60-7.
"Jesse's obviously a great player but we've got a lot of good players in our team. It's handy when he's scoring runs but I don't think it's a one-man team. Everybody's got the ability to step up.
"The team showed a bit of fight throughout and that's promising signs. We've got to search for that consistency now. We always talk about it with our team being hot and cold."
Luke Woodcock was one batsman given an excuse. He had reason to look incredulous when given out lbw by umpire Barry Frost to one he edged to backward point. Frost must have cringed when he saw the replay but Woodcock still had to trudge off. Still, Wellington were well in the mire by then.
Aussie import Cameron Borgas, who with Shaun Tait flies home after their two-game cameo, hit a breezy 50 off 43 balls as the carnage unfolded at the other end, while debutant Scott Kuggeleijn swung hard.
In the chase, Lou Vincent led the way, the former test opener clipping 45 off 46 balls. He and Brad Hodge (22), Auckland's one-game import, added 65 off eight overs for the first wicket to seize control.
Tait went for 14 off his first over against Vincent, his former team-mate at Zimbabwe's Mid-West Rhinos. The speedster got some revenge, bowling Vincent with his penultimate delivery to end with 2-33, but it was too late. Tait and Borgas have proven handy buys, but last night they needed support.
Woodcock (2-28) also bowled well and Andy McKay was sharp and accurate, but it required a monumental effort with the ball to defend that total.
The Firebirds head to Rangiora for a Plunket Shield match against Canterbury starting on Monday.
- The Dominion Post
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