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Cricket: Wellington Firebirds early contender for feel good story of the year

Firebirds' Grant Elliott (L) celebrates their win with team mates during the Stags v Firebirds Super Smash final. Photo / Photosport
Firebirds' Grant Elliott (L) celebrates their win with team mates during the Stags v Firebirds Super Smash final. Photo / Photosport

An opening contender for 'feel good sports story of the year' is... the Wellington Firebirds.

It comes after their 14-run triumph over Central Districts at New Plymouth to win the McDonald's Super Smash from what, at one stage in the season, seemed insurmountable odds.

The sentiment was summed up in a tweet from Grant Elliott after the capabilities of their older - or to put it more diplomatically, 'experienced' - squad were questioned, particularly in the competition's early stanzas.

"For those critics and doubters calling us too old and Dad's Army... have some of that! Super Smash champions! #howgood #loveourcricket," Elliott wrote.

With six players aged 34 years or older - add Luke Ronchi's earlier contributions to make it seven - Wellington secured the franchise's second T20 title in three years.

The odds were stacked against them. Central Districts had beaten Wellington twice in the round robin. The Firebirds also lost their first four games of the competition, albeit by nine runs or less on each occasion.

After being sent in for the final, their 172 for seven appeared sub-par on a ground where a world record T20 aggregate of 497 runs were scored on December 21 between CD and Otago.

Yet the visitors' bowling and fielding excelled. Captain Mainwarings were everywhere to lead them out of strife. They appeared to work on the basis that a tight off-stump channel would reduce the Stags' chances of freeing their arms to pepper the legside boundaries.

It was a triumph for the tactical nous of captain Hamish Marshall and coach Bruce Edgar. Their charges held their nerve on a ground where sixes come to breed.

The bowling guile shown by 38-year-old Brent Arnel (two for 16) and 37-year-old Elliott (two for 22) tightened their grip on the title.

"Every time you win a final it's a bit of a relief," Elliott said. "Everyone talks about momentum, but I'm not sure how much we had on play-offs day because we were probably 30 runs short of where we thought we should be.

"The guys bowled extremely well and, when you have experience in a team, it provides cool heads in pressure situations."

Elliott said Jayawardene's wicket, hooking out to Brent Arnel in the first over for a golden duck, provided the key moment. They also lost George Worker and Jesse Ryder within three overs, leaving them six for three.

"Brent bowled magnificently up top, and Hamish [Bennett with two for 34] was also aggressive," Elliott said. "We needed to get quick wickets and that gave us the best chance of limiting them through the middle... especially after we thought anything over 150 was a bonus."

Wickets in the ninth, 12th, 13th, 15th and 20th overs restricted the Stags from scaling towards the competition summit.

Similarly, the Firebirds suffered setbacks in the second, sixth, 11th, 13th and 16th overs but survived through 37-year-old Michael Papps (29 from 35), 36-year-old Jeetan Patel (28 off 11) and Matt Taylor (48 off 25).

"We started with high hopes but after four games we were in the doldrums," Marshall said. "The lads showed character to turn it around. We have an 'oldish' side with good experience so there was a lot of calmness throughout."

There needed to be. After coming from last in the competition, the Firebirds won a super over tie against the Volts in a five-over game to qualify for the play-offs via run rate differential. In the preliminary final they chased 152 to beat Canterbury with three wickets and four balls to spare. Patel and 34-year-old Luke Woodcock saw them home.

"We looked at a few areas we were doing poorly," Marshall said. "We leaked too many boundaries in the field, especially in the last five [overs]. We made it harder for oppositions to score runs, and our batting picked up. We got momentum and [to make the final alone] was a huge relief during a stressful time." ​

- NZ Herald

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