Amazing Mason gets my vote

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 07:17 24/12/2012
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Michael Mason and Jamie How celebrate winning the national one day cricket final.

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OPINION: As The Weekend signs off for another year, it seems only fitting to salute some of the great performances on Taranaki soil in 2012.

Narrowing it down to just three was not easy, and it was a damn sight tougher deciding who deserved the gong for performance of the year.

At the end of an exhaustive process, The Weekend kept coming back to one man who, ironically, does not even hail from Taranaki.

Central Districts cricketer Michael Mason, who was in doubt for the match after injuring his knee in practice the day before, signed off on his career with the Stags in the most amazing fashion on February 12.

For those on the terraces at Pukekura Park it was the opportunity to witness something rare in sport - a player winning a title with his last ever act in a team.

Mason had long been someone devotees to the picturesque ground had admired as they watched him roll in from the northern end with an action so relaxed he barely shifted the blades of grass underneath him.

While his 3-52 was admirable that day, especially when he broke an 111-run partnership between Gareth Hopkins and Colin Munro, it was his batting that defied belief.

Not renowned for his craft with willow in hand, Mason strode to the crease with his side in what seemed an impossible position.

Eight down and still needing 60 for victory with just a handful of overs remaining, many at the ground had started packing up their belongings and heading for the Fillis St exit.

Just minutes earlier Mason had been sitting on the second level of the Bellringer Pavilion playing with his young son, so relaxed, you could be forgiven for thinking his work was already done.

His mood was in stark contrast to Auckland coach Paul Strang whose natural instincts prevented him from thinking of victory before he contemplated defeat.

Still, the Auckland players were at a point on the field where they had already started celebrating back-to-back titles.

It did not take long for panic to set in, though, 19 balls in fact, as Mason belted his highest ever one- day score of 41, including a match- winning boundary off the second- to-last delivery.

Cue unbridled celebrations. Cue plenty of man love and cue a surprisingly low-key response from the hero of the moment.

"I just went out there thinking that we could do it and it just happened," Mason said.

It was left up to victorious skipper Jamie How to bring a bit more realism to the moment.

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"He's a guy who plays cricket for all the right reasons and that rubs off on all us, really," he said, before giving Mason another hug.

No 2 on the list goes to Taranaki's performance against Canterbury to repel the five-time champions' Ranfurly Shield challenge.

Under gloomy grey skies, with a swirling wind whipping around Yarrow Stadium, Taranaki turned in a performance full of honest toil and determination.

The 18-9 scoreline did reflect the closeness of the battle, Scott Waldrom's try deciding the encounter in only the last few minutes, albeit off what looked suspiciously like a double movement as he crawled towards the white paint.

The victory started something quite unusual around the country - support from the national media and some genuine admiration for the men in amber and black.

As excuses rolled off the tongue of many who had thought pre- game the result was a forgone conclusion, many forgot that Taranaki forced their more fancied opposites into mistakes, took their chances and followed the No 1 rule in provincial rugby - play to the conditions.

Third on the list is another Ranfurly Shield match and it's placing on The Weekend's top three owes as much to the opposition as it does to what Taranaki produced on the first night of spring.

Tasman ventured north on the back of an upset win over Canterbury. That alone should have had many a Taranaki supporter edgy.

The fact it didn't owed a bit to the arrogance that had started to filter into the province's psyche. That soon shifted as fast as the fans started to wriggle in their seats as Tasman countered anything Taranaki threw at them.

It was back and forth stuff which ended five tries apiece, the boot of Beauden Barrett proving the difference with his six penalty goals as the match ended 49-40 in Taranaki's favour.

It was a fantastic, action-packed night, deserving of a bigger audience.

glenn.mclean@dailynews.co.nz

- Taranaki Daily News

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