Firebirds trample Aces to make T20 final
Wellington will meet Otago in Sunday's Twenty30 final in Dunedin, after beating Auckland by 23 runs in tonight's preliminary final at the Basin Reserve.
The Wellington Firebirds took the ascendancy from the first ball and never relinquished it in a fairly complete display. Their fielding remains a work in progress, but that's not a newsflash.
Otherwise Wellington were terrific, as they comfortably defended an imposing total of 182 for four.
The Auckland Aces' chase never gained the necessary momentum after Lou Vincent was trapped lbw first ball, by Ili Tugaga. Gareth Hopkins followed shortly after and it was left to import Aaron Finch to keep Auckland's title defence alive.
The Australian survived a couple of sharp catching chances, but couldn't conquer Luke Woodcock. Having got through to 44 from 30 balls, Finch chopped his 30th on.
That gave left-arm spinner Woodcock his 50th wicket in New Zealand Twenty20 cricket, becoming just the second bowler to do so.
Woodcock was just one of a number of Firebirds bowlers to produce tidy spells. The transformation of the occasionally-erratic Scott Kuggeleijn was probably the most eye-catching, as Wellington restricted the Aces to 159 for eight and deservedly qualified for their first Twenty20 final.
But the historic win had all been created by what happened with the bat. If Wellington coach Jamie Siddons had been told Jesse Ryder would be out after just four overs, he probably wouldn't have thought that augured too well.
Except, in 17 balls at the crease, Ryder helped himself to 46 effortless runs. It was quality stuff, as he eased the ball through the covers or drop-kicked it over the leg side.
He hit seven fours and three sixes during his stay, before being caught on the square leg fence as he attempted to bring up his half-century with another maximum.
Siddons' hope had been that Ryder would bat deep into the innings. He didn't, but such was the destruction he wrought while he was there it didn't matter.
Ryder's partner, Ben Orton, followed him off soon after, before Michael Papps and Cameron Borgas put on 79 for the third wicket. Borgas, again, failed to really get going, but the important thing was Wellington weren't losing wickets.
Papps was playing a better hand, though. His 70 not out, from 48 balls, was another example that there's more than one way to skin a cat in Twenty20 cricket. Ryder's way is more thrilling but Papps, often pigeon-holed as a four-day plodder, showed you can be mightily effective with a more orthodox method.
Luke Ronchi (21 off 11) ensured the Firebirds finished with a more than competitive total. Given how well Ronchi hits the balls, there must be a temptation to give him longer in the middle.
Borgas has battled to even go at a run-a-ball and that cost the Firebirds victory over Otago in the last of the preliminary rounds.
But the problem of promoting Ronchi above him is that it leaves Wellington with no-one capable of producing a big over at the end.
And when a team gets 182 for four, it's hard to suggest their innings hasn't been productive one.
The Dominion Post