OPINION: Congratulations to the Wellington Firebirds.
Seriously, these guys deserve a fair amount of credit for what they've put on the park this season. The provincial Twenty20 trophy is well within their grasp, they're right in contention for the Plunket Shield and look ideally suited to make a good run at the 50-over competition when that commences at the end of next month.
The Firebirds have been rightly, and roundly, panned in this paper for pathetic performances and precious behaviour, in the past. Wellington haven't won a trophy of any sort since the summer of 2003-04 and yet the players carried on like they were God's gift to the game.
This season they're humble, they're honest and they're winning.
Second in the Twenty20 competition, the Firebirds host leaders Otago on Friday. The Volts are getting great value from import Ryan ten Doeschate, have some quality in Neil Broom, Nathan McCullum and Ian Butler and are getting useful performances from youngsters like Jacob Duffy.
They're a good team, but no better than Wellington.
Third-placed Northern Districts come to the Basin Reserve on Sunday and, again, are a team with some decent players. Wellington, though, are better and should beat them.
You weren't able to say something like that, even as recently as last season. The Firebirds of old would never have made explorers because, at the first sign of strife, they just folded up their tent up and went home.
Wellington lost to Northern Districts last time out, after being unable to defend a very respectable total of 197. In theory, that's not a great effort, but it was made immeasurably better by what captain Grant Elliott said afterwards.
He felt his team didn't bowl well enough and should have won. It doesn't sound like much, but it was one of the most encouraging quotes to come out of Elliott's mouth during his tenure.
Previously he would have claimed a spurious moral victory, or blamed ill luck. Not now.
Elliott didn't round on his players, that's not his style. Instead he quietly admitted fault and declared that the team had to be better.
That was backed up by the demotions of Scott Kuggeleijn and Dane Hutchinson to Wellington's second team, in a rare demonstration that playing poorly has consequences. It sent a good message to everyone in the team and it came as no surprise when the Firebirds turned around and thrashed Canterbury by 57 runs on Sunday.
Wellington now have everything in their favour to win this competition and, with it, qualification to the Twenty20 champions league. Hosting the domestic final on January 20 looks a distinct possibility and, at worst, they'll be semifinalists.
Whatever route they take, you now feel Wellington have the wherewithal to find a way to come through and claim the title. It's a far cry from all the continual capitulations of the past.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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