Cricket: Knights slay feisty Firebirds

The Northern Knights scored a remarkable victory over the Wellington Firebirds in glorious conditions at the Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, on New Year's Day.

Bright sunny skies and a cooling breeze gave the players and excellent crowd of 3800 the perfect setting for the HRV Cup Twenty20 match.

The Firebirds looked likely after scoring a competitive total of 197/4, with Jesse Ryder in typically belligerent mood smashing 62, but Knights openers Brad Wilson and Anton Devcich set a new Northern Districts Twenty20 record to set up a remarkable victory.

The Knights came into the game in third place, just behind the Wellington Firebirds on run rate, so there was plenty riding on the game - not least potential home ground advantage in the finals to come.

The outstanding outfield - more akin to a fast bowling green - meant excellent value for shots played into gaps and all the hard work put into creating the ideal surface for a high scoring match by head curator Jared Carter and David Johnston over the recent wet weather paid off.

The pitch was superb with more bounce and pace than the old days at Blake Park next door, which is the most important part of any cricket stadium.

The ground is gradually taking shape, with major building work planned over the next year that will give the Western Bay an international-class facility to be proud of.

Firebirds captain Grant Elliott won the toss and decided to bat first, giving former Black Cap Ryder and Bangladesh international Tamin Iqbal first use of the wicket.

Ryder got off the mark with a sumptuous lofted straight drive off the opening over bowled by Knights skipper Scott Styris and continued his Michael Clarke-like run of form this summer.

An early front-foot six over cover off new Black Cap and Bay rep Corey Anderson was stunning and he followed it up with a bludgeoning boundary as the Knights' bowling looked decidedly ragged in the opening five overs.

Long-serving Mount Maunganui player Graham Aldridge was brought on in the sixth over to slow down Ryder but he was greeted by being dispatched to the top of the bank over mid-wicket second ball, and into the carpark next ball as the Firebirds raced to 58-0 off just six overs.

Styris dropped a catch off Ryder from leg spinner Ish Sudhi's first ball on his Twenty20 debut, which proved to be costly as Ryder brought up his 50 off 25 balls next over with another powerfully struck six.

Ryder's fine innings ended on 62, including five sixes, when he holed out to Anderson off Bradley Scott in the 11th over to end the opening partnership of 90.

The Firebirds' 100 came up off 70 balls in the 12th over with former Australian keeper/batsman Luke Ronchi, now eligible for the Black Caps, joining Iqbal in keeping the scoreboard roaring along.

Iqbal reached his 50 off 38 balls but went for 68 as the Knights slowed the Firebirds' momentum.

James Marshall took a fine catch to remove Firebirds captain Grant Elliott, who scored 21 off nine balls, as the Firebirds finished with 197-4 off their 50 overs, including 11 sixes.

The Knights' openers Brad Wilson and Anton Devcich got the momentum going with some bold strokes and after four overs the Knights were on target at 40-0.

Devcich smoked a fine six over mid wicket to bring up the Knights' 50 in the sixth over and the openers continued to flourish, setting a new Twenty20 record for the first wicket as they raced to 69 off just six overs at 11.5 runs per over - well ahead of the required run rate.

Ronchi missed a straight forward chance in the ninth over to stump Wilson, who celebrated by hitting 10 runs off the next two balls.

The Knights reached 110/0 in the 10th over and what had seemed a difficult run chase was beginning to look easy, as Wilson brought up his 50 off just 32 balls and Devcich his off 33 balls.

Wilson had another life when Luke Woodcock dropped a tough chance but at 122/0 off 11 overs the Knights were well in the ascendancy with only 76 runs to get.

Devcich and Wilson went past the Knights' all-time record Twenty20 partnership of 127 between Brad Hodge and Wilson set in December 2010.

The next milestone was the Knights' 150 coming up off just 83 balls but finally a wicket fell when Ryder had Wilson caught on the long off boundary for a superb 74, as the Knights needed 33 more to win off 26 balls left to bowl.

Devcich kept going towards the winning target and the prospect of a notable personal century.

He had a life with a difficult chance missed, as he went to 86, before English import Robert Croft hit a superb six over long off and a four next ball to ensure the game did not go to the final over.

Devcich ended 92 not out and the Knights now look forward to the visit from the Auckland Aces at the Bay Oval on Sunday, January 6.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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