New Zealand's early exit from the World Twenty20 presents Wellington an extra curveball after they bolted into the national one-day cricket final yesterday.
The Firebirds expect to face Northern Districts' test new ball pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, but will welcome back gloveman Luke Ronchi, for Saturday's televised decider at Mt Maunganui.
The beaten Black Caps were scheduled to fly into Auckland later today and New Zealand Cricket confirmed they were available. The Knights fare better with Southee, Boult and allrounder Anton Devcich, while Ronchi is Wellington's sole returnee. In a bonus for the Firebirds, Kane Williamson is jetting straight to England for county cricket while Corey Anderson's dislocated finger rules him out.
''They've got some quality players coming back, but our team's been pretty settled throughout this season,'' said Wellington captain James Franklin, after their eight-wicket stroll over Canterbury in Christchurch.
''We've played some pretty decent short form cricket at the Mount over the last few years and we back ourselves to go up there and put them under pressure and hopefully lift a trophy.''
Franklin's week just keeps getting better. Last Thursday wife Kerry gave birth to their third child, son Freddy, and the following night he was named the Firebirds' player of the year.
Victory on Saturday would be Wellington's first silverware in a decade, after they fell short in last year's Twenty20 decider against Otago.
The skipper ushered home yesterday's chase for 240 without incident on a tricky Hagley Oval surface, which nipped around early then offered turn for the spinners.
His unbeaten 53 off 39 balls added the icing as Wellington cantered home with four overs to spare. After more sterling work from opener Michael Pollard (70), Stephen Murdoch anchored the pursuit with a composed 80 not out to quell Canterbury's three tweakers and rid the jitters from their dual chases against Auckland in the past week.
Still, Franklin was nervous at the innings break after he felt 220 was a par total, having won the toss on an overcast day with the ball seaming about.
Spin again proved Wellington's weapon, after Canterbury openers Tom Latham and Brad Cachopa got away. Left-armer Luke Woodcock, with backup from allrounder Grant Elliott, saw Canterbury lose 5-25 in 11 overs.
The rejuvenated Woodcock is relishing the late season turners and ended with 3-26, but allrounder Andrew Ellis clouted 81 off 76 balls as Brent Arnel and Jeetan Patel suffered at the death. Franklin hailed his slow men but labelled the bowling and fielding ''patchy''.
''There's still areas we'd like to tidy up which is a good thing knowing we haven't played a complete game yet going into the final. There's still a bit left in the tank which is good.''
Wellington beat Northern at their last meeting in Hamilton, thanks to more spin heroics from Woodcock and Patel. But the final was shifted to Bay Oval due to scheduled maintenance of the Seddon Park pitch.
The Firebirds are on a roll now with four wins from their last five, and two on the bounce in knockout matches away from home. With a balanced bowling attack, Franklin and Elliott's all-round contributions and some composed top order knocks, it's a winning formula.
''We spoke after losing this same fixture last year about how we wanted to come back and learn from the experience and we've done that. There's one more hurdle to clear,'' Franklin said.
- The Dominion Post
With the World Cup just around the corner, how do you think the Black Caps will go?