The mood in the Central Districts Stags' camp was one of mission accomplished rather than out-and-out celebrations after they beat the Wellington Firebirds in New Plymouth yesterday.
"We need two out of two so we've done the first part but, I guess, Sunday's a completely different game because it won't count for much if we don't win on Sunday," said CD batsman Tom Bruce after the 59-run victory at Pukekura Park in the penultimate round of their Burger King Super Smash Twenty20 game.
Tomorrow, the William Young-captained side reload at the Basin Reserve in Wellington in a bid to make the elimination round of the shortest form of the men's white-ball domestic competition.
The green army, who have been marching stoutly in the four-day Plunket Shield and one-day Ford Trophy campaigns so far, were delighted to finish their T20 stint on their picturesque home ground with a victory for the loyal fans who went away disappointed two other times this summer.
Bruce started his season in the format slowly but, no doubt reassuringly for CD coach Heinrich Malan, he was beginning to make the right noises two games ago as proof that form can be elusive but class is permanent.
"I definitely haven't got the runs I'd like to have," said the Black Caps campaigner who yesterday top scored for CD with 59 runs from 29 balls, including four boundaries and five sixes, as the Stags posted 209-6 in their allotted 20 overs.
"You keep finding ways to go out. A couple of times I haven't felt good and other times I've been feeling good but found ways to get out. That's cricket so I've just got to do what I keep doing best."
The 26-year-old right hander from Taranaki said it felt good to carve up runs when the collective really needed it.
"I was pretty relaxed and just watching the ball and hitting it rather than worrying about the situation or what they were going to do.
"You want to be scoring runs at the crunch of the competition although it would have been nice to be winning more games to not find ourselves in this situation but we've now got ourselves in this situation so we'll need to, with the best of our ability, get us out of it."
Bruce didn't find the revolving door of playing for the Black Caps a distraction, adding it was always a privilege to play for one's country but he was making a transition within the T20 format so it wasn't that taxing.
"I just have to get into the swing of things, whichever team I end up playing for and scoring more consistently."
He said it was great to provide a 200-plus platform for the bowlers to stride off, after Ben Wheeler (47 runs), Dane Cleaver (43no) and Young (37) bolstered their innings.
In reply, the Firebirds could only muster 153 runs before they were skittled with an over to spare.
"It's really pleasing to see that No 3, No 5 and No 7 performing and making good contributions. It gave us some really good momentum in our bowling innings," he said, adding Wheeler and Cleaver's partnership was crucial to overcome the psychological barrier for the bowlers.
Bruce said they were tight with the bowling attack as Seth Rance, Ajaz Patel and Blair Tickner claimed two wickets each although Wheeler again was the most frugal with a scalp. Bevan Small took 1-31.
"They [Wellington] developed a few partnerships but the bowlers didn't panic at all so that worked for us today," he said.
The Firebirds also need to win tomorrow as CD aim to boost their run rate to eclipse Canterbury Kings should they tie on points when all the other permutations fall into place.
Bruce said exorcising last summer's demons of losing to the Firebirds in the final wasn't a factor any more although the Stags weren't about to forget it any time soon.
Opening batsman George Worker returned to the Stags' fold from the New Zealand stable yesterday while Ben Smith was sent back to Whanganui for Furlong Cup duties against Hawke's Bay this weekend.