Underdogs Stratford say: We can win this
It might have taken a "super over" to get there but Stratford will make a rare premier finals appearance at Pukekura Park tomorrow.
Playing New Plymouth Boys' High School in Thursday's Twenty20 semifinal, Stratford needed to stop their opposition from scoring two off the final ball to avoid defeat.
They managed it, forced the game into an extra over, and restricted the school side to eight runs before getting the nine they needed to progress.
"It was one of the better games I've played in," Stratford captain Tom Bruce said.
The euphoria of getting to the final will have to be tempered, firstly because Stratford have the final day of their two-day match against New Plymouth Marist United to play today before they face an Old Boys side who will start short favourites to add the T20 title to the one-day championship they snared in December.
"I haven't been in one [final] since I've been at the club. I think it's roughly eight years, so it's a long time between drinks."
A couple of players, Phillip Mischefski and Jason Whitmore, have been added to the squad from the XI who took the field in the semifinal, and a final decision on who starts is likely to be made today.
Bruce thought his side contained enough quality to win.
"I think the shorter format probably suits us because we have a few bowlers who can nibble it around in the 20 overs and batsmen find it pretty difficult to score off them.
"To be fair, they probably should be favourites with the side they have got but we've got nothing to lose because we haven't won a final for so many years."
A fortnight has passed since Old Boys were knocked out of the national club championships but that defeat remains in the minds of many of the players, according to captain Dean Stewart, who was dead keen to add title No 2 to the club's tally this season.
"We went away from Palmy [Palmerston North] with a lot of what-ifs to be perfectly honest," he said.
"Although we're still hurting we've just had to move on and look to win the remaining two championships and Sunday is one of them, so that's our focus."
In contrast to Stratford, Old Boys had a relatively comfortable semifinal win, beating New Plymouth Marist United by seven wickets with more than five overs remaining.
Despite that, Stewart has plenty of respect for tomorrow's opposition, while he also knew the flippant nature of T20 cricket meant favoured teams often got beaten.
"We're under no illusions how tough it's going to be and how well we'll have to play to get up on Sunday."
Old Boys are almost at full strength, the exception being Riley McGregor, who has had to pull out because of illness.
Two out of the four premier two-day matches looked poised to produce outright results today, while first-innings points appear the target in the remaining two games.
Competition co-leaders New Plymouth Old Boys trail Francis Douglas Memorial College by 51 runs, with the school side having eight second-innings wickets in hand.
Fellow leaders New Plymouth Boys' High School need another four wickets to grab first-innings points off Inglewood as the home side try to get another 67 runs. Both captains should then look to produce a result.
Hawera United, at 65-2, could take their time in trying to reach Woodleigh's first-innings total of 283-6, while Stratford and New Plymouth Marist United are yet to start their match at Stratford after rain spoiled day one.
HOW THEY LINE UP
NP OLD BOYS v STRATFORD
Twenty20 final 2pm tomorrow, Pukekura Park
NEW PLYMOUTH OLD BOYS: Dean Stewart (captain), Jamie Watkins, Jackson Braddock-Pago, James McDougall, Kent Jordan, Mattie Thomas, Brad Fale, Brad Purcell, Simon Clinton-Baker, David Loake, Kyle Pillay.
STRATFORD (from): Tom Bruce (captain), Nick Callinghan, Scott Davidson, Henry Boon, Neil Harper, Aaron Moore, Chris Askew, Mark Mekalick, Grant Commerford, Jason McElroy, Daniel Keller, Phillip Mischefski, Jason Whitmore
Taranaki Daily News