Property Brokers United would have given their kingdom for one more batsman as the gamble of taking ten players into the penultimate Bullocks Coastal Challenge Cup round backfired in a shock 16-run loss to winless Red Star at Victoria Park on Saturday.
Two-time runnersup in the competition, United needed to bank maximum points against a side that had lost seven straight matches, but on a very flat track after the Festival of Cricket, they were without the services of most of their spinners in Tom Lance, Chris Sharrock, Dylan Martin, Gerard Hobbs and part timer Josh Goleby.
Simon Badger was making his comeback from the horrific left finger injury he suffered in late December where the bone broke through the skin, as he could bowl well enough but only really fielded with his right hand.
Brendon Walker was also still gingerly with his calf injury from that same December game, but played as United were short of bodies.
Initially, it did not seem to matter as Ryan Slight (2-26) eventually caught up with Red Star's openers and then Badger (3-29) struck to leave the visitors 34-3.
Richard French (28) tried to hold the top order together, and after his departure Peter Sigvertsen (29 not out) tried to carry the tail with him, but United's veteran spinner Robbie Power (4-20) produced a tight eight over spell, working in partnership with Badger.
United would successfully appeal six leg before decisions in the innings.
Zachary Dewhurst (14) hung around with Sigvertsen long enough to get them over the 100 mark, but Badger eventually hit the very top of his stumps and then the last two wickets fell quickly to leave Red Star with 121, another familiar low score for the summer.
Nonetheless, United's batting order did look decidedly brittle and had only nine wickets available, as Matthew Boswell and Scott Oliver opened up, and at the end of the second over a sliding Oliver was caught short of his ground by a direct hit from Sigvertsen.
Stephen Holloway was promoted to No3 to give a little more time before leading hope Matthew Simes would bat, but Simes was out there soon enough as Boswell gave up a nick to Sigvertsen and then Holloway lost his stumps to Robbie Anderson, both for 11.
With Simes able to shore up his end, this would ordinarily be the time that a fully fit Walker and/or Badger would knuckle down with him for the key partnership to carry United close to their small target, but in the space of two overs both injured players were trapped in front for ducks by Anderson and Sigvertsen respectively.
At 39-5, United were in real trouble, despite Simes beginning to work his way towards another unbeaten half century, as Power was also dismissed and Ritesh Verma joined his wicketkeeper.
Play was also stopped for nearly 15 minutes as United had a long debate with the umpires about bringing over a member of their 2nd XI, playing Wanganui Renegades at the other end of the park, to have eleven batsmen, which technically is allowed under the competition rules.
However, it was eventually decided to carry on without an 11th player and Verma was angry at himself for hitting a lofty delivery straight to a Red Star fielder with 27 runs needed.
Last man Slight joined Simes, who would still take singles, and Slight even managed to make a good flick off his pads for a well run three, the pair coming into the drinks break with 17 needed.
But immediately after the resumption, Slight chipped the ball straight to an inner circle fielder and that was that.
Coming into the local derby match with Watson's Tech on February 2, United gave up position on the points table they can ill afford, especially as Tech comfortably accounted for Wanganui Collegiate by eight wickets at the school grounds.
Playing without their Central Districts Under 17 reps Sam Sherriff and Joel Clark, Collegiate were bundled out for 98.
Harkaran Mann and Jessica Watkin both picked up three wickets, while allrounder Fraser Kinnerley was free of his police duties to bag a pair.
Kashish Nauhria then carried his bat at the top for an unbeaten 40, while Tim Czerwonka was promoted to No3 and played some rather unorthodox slap shots that still netted him 16 runs, before Akhil Kumar joined Nauhria to wrap up the innings in just 17 overs with an unbeaten 15.
The win saw Tech leapfrog United into fourth on the ladder, making their final round game on February 2 a virtual quarterfinal.
Marist will be eyeing up a home semifinal after an excellent century by Mark Fraser (109) in partnership with Chris Stewart (75) set up an eventual 98 run win over Masterton's United CC.
Coming together with Marist in a delicate state at 57-3 in the 13th over after Michael O'Leary and Dominic Rayner fell cheaply while John McIlraith (17) lost his stumps just when he was looking to get going, Fraser and Stewart carefully worked the ball around with singles and two's.
Taking their time at 119-3 after 28 overs, the pair each raised their 50's and began to open up, Stewart ultimately hitting three sixes and six boundaries, while Fraser also cleared the rope three times and reached it 13 more, pulling fiercely or launching shots down the ground.
Fraser rode his luck after being dropped from a sharp chance, and when Stewart was finally caught off United's Robbie Spears (2-56), Marist had plenty of wickets for the slog at 213-4 in the 42nd over.
United, to their credit, did manage to pull Marist back through the bowling of Ethan Childs (4-39) as Fraser went and then Craig Thorpe, Nick Harding and Nick O'Leary all fell cheaply while swinging.
Angus Dinwiddie (18) struck a couple of boundaries as Marist raised a still-imposing 272-9.
In reply, all of the United top order got starts, accumulating a series of 30-run partnerships, but they would get out at crucial junctures, with only John McKenzie kicking on with 61 from 64 balls, including eight boundaries and a six.
However, no-one could stay with him for long enough as five batsmen made scores between 10-19, often at a run a ball, but would then give away their wickets, with Fraser taking three catches behind the stumps.
Jaco Le Roux (22) had a bit of a flurry down the order with two sixes and a boundary, but he was eventually bowled as all six Marist bowlers used picked up wickets to dismiss the visitors for 174 in the 34th over.
Thorpe (3-55), Harding (2-22) and Nick O'Leary (2-12) had the best returns.
In the final round games for the Horowhenua-Kapiti sides, who started the competition a week early in October, two-time defending champions Paraparaumu set themselves on top of the table as Weraroa's playoff hopes took a nose dive when they also only had ten players – losing by 88 runs at Kena Kena Park.
Levin Old Boys also looked to secure the best position possible for the semifinals, as they will now wait for the results of the final round, after a six wicket win over Kapiti Old Boys at Donnelly Park.
Paraparaumu 223 (K Fahey 67, A Halbert 51, R Lorimer 24; C O'Connell 3-28, M Good 3-33) bt Weraroa 135 (J Culleton 45, M Good 21, T Morgan 21; K Fahey 6-27) by 88 runs.
Kapiti Old Boys 150 (C Andrews 55, S Patterson 23, G Grunter 20; D Sanson 3-19, K MacLachlan 3-19) lost to Levin Old Boys 154-4 (D Sanson 64no, J Pinfold 37; T Harris 2-44) by six wickets.
Red Star 121 (P Sigvertsen 29no, R French 28; R Power 4-20, S Badger 3-29, R Slight 2-26) bt United 105 (Scoreboard N/A).
Wanganui Collegiate 98 lost to Tech 99-2 (Scoreboard N/A).
Marist 272-9 (M Fraser 109, C Stewart 75; E Childs 4-39, R Spears 2-56) bt United CC 174 (J McKenzie 61, J Le Roux 22; C Thorpe 3-55, N O'Leary 2-12, N Harding 2-22) by 98 runs.