Eighteen-year-old Jacob Duffy has turned in his best Twenty20 bowling performance to enable the SBS Bank Otago Volts to join the HELL Wellington Firebirds and SKYCITY Northern Knights at the head of the HRV Cup leaderboard.
Known as "Dr Death" to his team-mates, Duffy and fellow young pace bowler James Fuller made life too difficult for the Auckland Aces with their pace and bounce, despite the Aces having set off on a modest run chase that had demanded fewer than eight runs per over.
Coming off back-to-back losses, the Aces were desperate not to lose further momentum in the competition in which they are the defending champions and, like the Volts, they had two games in hand to catch up with HRV Cup leaders, setting up a pertinent mid-table clash in Queenstown today.
Volts captain Derek de Boorder chose to bat first on a pitch that soon proved less innocuous than it appeared, with good carry and bounce. The Aces' bowling attack was quickly in charge, Kyle Mills permitting a mere single off the opening over before Michael Bates swept in to capitalise, dismissing the dangerous Hamish Rutherford who lobbed a catch directly to Bhupinder Singh at short fine leg.
Things rapidly got worse for the hosts with Bates dishing up a wicket maiden to remove Aaron Redmond. After surviving a dropped catch, one of four in the innings, Neil Broom was then caught off Andre Adams' first ball, top-edging a tame delivery to a grateful Gareth Hopkins. The wicket saw Adams join Ronnie Hira as Auckland's best overall Twenty20 wicket-taker with 48 scalps.
Having found the boundary a pitiful three times in the first half of their innings, the Volts were looking to pro Ryan ten Doeschate to save them, but his partners changed as quickly as December weather. Nathan McCullum was run out and form batsman Michael Bracewell sliced a catch to Mills at third man.
At 53/5 Ryan ten Doeschate and Jimmy Neesham needed to respond urgently. They did so, carving Donovan Grobbelaar for 23 runs off the 15th to post the Volts' 100. Bates, who had completed his opening spell with starry figures of 2-4, returned to a more testing dual with Neesham, who hoisted him for six amid 15 runs peeled from the 18th.
Slamming Bates for a six at the death, Neesham joined ten Doeschate in the half-century club as Bates's figures were ruined, the batsmen's 103-run partnership off 50 balls saving Otago's blushes.
Chasing 157, the Aces got off to the worst possible start against the lively pace and bounce of Fuller and Duffy. Both opening batsmen traipsed back with ducks - Phil Mustard's a golden, having edging his first-baller to first slip; Lou Vincent's was a three-ball egg.
The plot thickened when both Gareth Hopkins (a pull shot that connected too late on the rising delivery) and Anaru Kitchen (a brave ramp shot) fell in Duffy's second over. The Aces, 16/4, were rocked as Duffy completed his first set for an impressive 3-8 off 2.
With the required run rate gettable, the fate of the match now depended on the surety of the Otago bowling through the middle of the innings - and they received a boost when Colin de Grandhomme was run out after an explosive 31 off 12. The match remained in the balance at the midway mark, the turning point coming when Donovan Grobbelaar and Craig Cachopa were dismissed in consecutive overs after a 47-run partnership. The Aces could not find the boundary often enough, Fuller and Duffy closing out the last four overs for a lean 25 runs to ensure a 13-run victory.
Scores will be settled between the two sides when they meet again in this week's televised Friday night encounter. Meanwhile the Canterbury Wizards and Central Stags will play the first HRV Cup match of 2013 in Nelson tomorrow, followed by the Northern Knights and Wellington Firebirds at Mount Maunganui at 4.30pm.
Full scorecard: http://scoring.blackcaps.co.nz/livescoring/match1612/scorecard.aspx
HRV Cup Points
Otago Volts - 16
Wellington Firebirds - 16
Northern Knights - 16
Auckland Aces - 8
Central Stags - 4
Canterbury Wizards – 0
Full points table: http://www.blackcaps.co.nz/domestic/points-table/137/hrv-cup.aspx