The Horowhenua-Kāpiti Bears men's cricket team will go into their Christmas break buoyed by one of their best starts to a season in living memory.
The Bears can savour the festive season knowing they sit in second place on the Furlong Cup two-day points table, three points behind leaders Hawke's Bay, but with a game in hand.
It comes after their third-equal finish in the one-day Chapple Cup competition, a stark improvement on their eighth placing last season, making Christmas pudding all the more sweet.
Their next Furlong Cup match will be against Manawatū on January 11 and 12 at Fitzherbert Park in Palmerston North.
The pre-Christmas leg of the season climaxed against Taranaki at Pukekura Park with last ball wicket on first day, securing valuable first innings points over a team that boasted a raft of Central Districts and Black Cap players, including Tom Bruce and Will Young.
With regular captain Andre Halbert out with injury, stand-in captain Matt Good lost the toss and was asked to bat.
HK got off to a useful start with an opening stand of 34 off 46 balls, bringing Bayley Te Tomo to the crease, who batted patiently for 41 of 78 balls, while captain Matt Good dug in with 20 off 91 deliveries.
A sharp 30 off 34 deliveries from Ajay Kashyap meant HK went to lunch at a respectable 108/3.
After lunch Horowhenua was tied down by Taranaki captain Matty Thomas, who ended up with 4 for 26 and Davis Mills with 3 for 30 saw HK all out for 157, agonisingly close to the 175 runs required to gain a second batting point.
Player coach Chad Law led an inspired effort in the field that had Taranaki in trouble at 36-3 at tea, and the prospect of an exciting last session with both teams chasing first innings points with bad weather forecast for the final day.
HK took wickets at regular intervals after tea leaving Taranaki requiring 24 runs with three overs remaining, while HK needed just two more wickets.
With one over to go HK needed one more scalp and Taranaki 18 runs. To put as much pressure on the last Taranaki batsmen, Good had seven of his players behind the stumps in the slip cordon for the final two overs.
The gamble paid off as the last ball of the day's play was caught by wicket keeper Jamie Pinfold off the bowling of Fraser Bartholomew, with Taranaki out for 139 and HK securing first innings points.
Kudos belonged with the four HK bowlers used, with debutant Xitij Sakhalkar finished with the impressive figures of 13 overs 3 wickets for 27. Daemon Kennett 11-2-15, Fraser Bartholomew 19-3-49 and Carter Andrews 10-2-42 all showed fight.
Law said while their young squad did not boast any superstars like other sides, they were a talented bunch.
"There are a lot of really talented guys in the team with a lot of ability," he said.