The Bullocks Coastal Challenge Cup has travelled back up the two state highways as Wanganui Vet Series Marist held off two-time defending champions Paraparaumu by three runs in a gripping final at Kena Kena Park on Saturday.
It is credit to the home club that they worked diligently with shovels and leaf blowers to ensure a 28-over match could start at 3pm, given they had championship advantage as top qualifer if the wet conditions early on Saturday and back-up Sunday made the muddy pitch unplayable.
The result was the most exciting game of the season.
Marist were surprisingly put into bat and their in-form top order had blasted over 200 runs with three overs remaining, well above the planned 130, before the home side managed to pull it back with five wickets during the slog to make sure at least they were not chasing 250.
Dominic Rayner (55), man of the match Zak O'Keefe (56) and Mark Fraser (61) each faced only 30-odd balls and blasted sixes and fours around Kena Kena's short boundaries – O'Keefe clearing the elevated Paraparaumu clubrooms with one six and hitting a neighbouring garage across the street with another.
Rayner, who has not lost a game this summer at club or representative level, came out when Chris Stewart was trapped in front early, and with Michael O'Leary (33) acting as support after being called in for the unavailable Ben Smith, Rayner cut loose to reach 36 in just 19 balls.
Rayner and O'Leary fell within two overs of each other to Jayden Keats (2-49), but that just brought Fraser together with O'Keefe to smash 106 off 60 balls – hitting 12 boundaries and six sixes between them, with Fraser being dropped on 20 in a key moment.
Dylan Reder (2-52) had a mess made of his five overs, but eventually had both men caught out.
Fraser had gone in ahead of skipper John McIlraith, as he and fellow big hitter Nick Harding looked set to hammer the last three overs, but Ryland Knight-Densem (2-41) had bowled well in the context of the game, including the sole maiden over, and had them caught out.
Craig Thorpe and Sam Beard were both run out in a helter skelter final over.
It seemed a target of 235 at a run rate above eight would be too high a mountain, but Paraparaumu knew their home ground while the Marist bowler's propensity to conceed extras – 27 of them – nearly cost them dearly.
Despite losing skipper Andre Halbert, import Ajay Kashyap (37) went ballistic in the opening three overs, hitting six boundaries and two sixes in just 15 balls – hammering Nick Harding until Dinwiddie, who was more accurate, eventually got him with a nick behind for 51-2 in the sixth over.
With Byron Gill (29) keeping the singles coming, Kelsey Fahey (67) was playing one of his great innings, having his team mates roaring with three boundaries and six shots clearing the boundary – one of them bouncing down nearby Falla Street.
Rayner took punishment from his three overs, while Beard was having better luck with just 39 taken from his maximum of six.
Marist's heads were down and they needed a little luck, which came when cool customer O'Keefe was chucked the ball to deliver his deceptive spinners, which can get turn and pace off the pitch when none seems available.
Fahey was initially unfazed, hitting Sam O'Leary for six onto a parked car, but at 146-2 in the 17th over, he stepped back to turn a lifting O'Keefe ball square of the wicket and looked surprised to see wicketkeeper Fraser jumping up and down.
In the game's decisive moment, Fahey had taken out his own stumps.
O'Keefe followed up immediately as Gill swung and missed a low straight ball, leaving two fresh batsmen in Tim Lambert and Craig Pashby at the crease and under pressure to maintain the run rate.
Galvanised, Beard and O'Keefe began sending down dot balls, although Lambert (14) still managed to swipe a six and four when Sam O'Leary came back.
Pasby never looked comfortable before O'Keefe had him trapped in front, and then Lambert miscued a shot over his head and Dinwiddie took an excellent catch while sliding on his knees for 169-6 in the 21st over.
When O'Keefe casually went back to field after his spell, having never once removed his cap, he had taken 4-32 and Marist could see the promised land with Paraparaumu needing 58 off 36 balls.
"Someone had to [step up]. It's pretty good," O'Keefe said later about his outstanding allrounder effort.
"It was pretty tight, just needed a few good overs in the middle."
Paraparaumu's Nigel Harvey (28 not out) and Reder (20 not out) were trying to go for it, but collectively only reached the boundary three times, with big hitter Sean Windle surprisingly not promoted up the order, as Dinwiddie came back and was bowling restrictively.
With 25 needed from 12 balls, Marist had used up their other in-form bowlers, but Sam O'Leary gamely returned from the opposite end and bowled the most important 9-run over of his club career.
And so Dinwiddie had 16 runs to defend and for the first five deliveries was on the money, having an unsuccessful LBW shout among two dot balls to leave the game safe as 12 were needed with one remaining.
Or so everybody thought.
In a finale that left the fielders biting their bottom lips and staring holes in the ground, Dinwiddie sent down a no-ball beamer that went through to the boundary, and then in trying to deliver a ball that couldn't be slogged straight, he gave away consecutive wides.
With batsmen and spectators alike checking and re-checking the equation, Paraparaumu could now win with a boundary as Dinwiddie came in to bowl the last delivery for the fourth time.
Reder had yet another swing and miss, and this time the umpire's hands stayed down as Dinwiddie was swamped by his relieved team mates.
McIlraith could only state the obvious — it had been an amazing game of cricket.
"[Paraparaumu] really wanted to play a final, even though they didn't have to.
"They put us in, we didn't know what we wanted to do.
"Michael was playing straight and the Rainman [Rayner] came in for a beautiful innings.
"We thought if [Paraparaumu's run rate] stayed around the eight's, they'd have a few dud overs, but it stayed there or thereabouts.
"We knew that Sri Lankan fella [Kashyap], had to go hard out."
Fahey treading on his stumps was ultimately the winning the game – Marist conceeded only one six and a handful of boundaries after that point.
"I dove for the ball [Fahey hit] and looked back and heard the boys cheering," said McIlraith.
"Then Dins [Dinwiddie]...just had to pitch that last ball up. Oopsies."
The skipper was proud his side, which three seasons ago often struggled to put out a full XI, to have achieved an outstanding cup campaign, with contributions throughout the lineup.
"Unreal season. They beat us by six wickets down here [in October], so we knew where we had to be.
"If someone didn't fire one day, someone else did."
Paraparaumu skipper Halbert praised his side for giving it everything despite the dark shadow hanging over the club, with the NZ Cricket discipline hearing scheduled for tomorrow over the brawl the previous weekend with Weraroa.
"We had a lot of adversity, so come out and played for the badge, and we just got beaten by a better team."
While the cup final was an exciting end to the competition, there was the typical end-of-season malaise in the minor playoffs with both games defaulted on Saturday.
In the playoff for third, Levin Old Boys picked up a default home win over Property Brokers United, who had signalled the week before their remaining undermanned squad was not interested in making the trip down to Donnelly Park.
After their surprise loss to Wanganui Collegiate 1st XI on February 9, Watson's Tech ultimately finished fifth when Wairarapa's United CC was unwilling to make the over two hour drive to Victoria Park.
Coastal Challenge Cup
February 23, Final: Paraparaumu vs Marist.
Weather reduced match to 28 overs each.
M O'Leary ct K Fahey b J Keats 33
C Stewart lbw b S Windle 6
D Rayner ct A Halbert b J Keats 55
Z O'Keefe ct C Pashby b D Reder 56
M Fraser ct A Halbert b D Reder 61
J McIlraith ct Unsure b R Knight-Densem 7
N Harding ct A Halbert b R Knight-Densem 6
C Thorpe run out 1
S Beard run out 3
A Dinwiddie not out 0
Total: 234-9 (28 overs).
Bowling: S Windle 3 overs, 0 maidens, 20 runs, 1 wicket; D Reder 5-0-52-2; J Keats 6-0-49-2; R Knight-Densem 6-1-41-2; N Harvey 5-0-35-0; A Halbert 3-0-36-0.
A Kashyap ct M Fraser b A Dinwiddie 37
A Halbert ct S O'Leary b N Harding 5
B Gill b Z O'Keefe 29
K Fahey hit wicket b Z O'Keefe 67
T Lambert ct A Dinwiddie b Z O'Keefe 14
C Pashby lbw b Z O'Keefe 4
N Harvey not out 28
D Reder not out 20
Total: 231-6 (28 overs).
N Harding 3-0-37-1; A Dinwiddie 6-0-44-1; S Beard 6-0-39-0; D Rayner 3-0-33-0; Z O'Keefe 6-0-32-4; S O'Leary 4-0-42-0.
Result: Marist won by three runs.