A six-wicket victory with one ball to spare got the Auckland Aces' HRV Twenty20 campaign off to a stirring start against hosts the Hell Wellington Firebirds. The Firebirds, who 24 hours earlier had been celebrating a last-over win of their own, were meanwhile left ruing missed opportunities at the death that cost them dearly.
Pace bowling coach Brent Arnel had led by example with a controlled 3-25, including a double strike at the top to remove both Jeet Raval and Martin Guptill with his deceptive slower ball, before grabbing his third with the last ball of his four-over allocation to send punishing English pro Luke Wright on his way (56 off 44) in the 14th.
Michael Pollard had plucked the Wright screamer out of the air above him on the boundary, amends for putting the same batsman down earlier in the over. Spinner Luke Woodcock was meanwhile outstanding through the middle, conceding just five runs off his first two overs and just two boundaries all up, both of them flat-bat sixes from Wright, in his 1-26.
Chasing the Firebirds' 157-7, the teams' scores had been dead level at the midway mark and the game was still a tightrope at the three-quarters mark. But in the 17th, the Firebirds made the crucial mistake of letting the dangerous big hitter Colin de Grandhomme get away on them after the Aucklander survived a convincing appeal for caught behind off Shaun Tait when he was yet to score.
Ably supported by Craig Cachopa (42* off 39), de Grandhomme eased the pressure with consecutive boundaries in the same over, reducing the equation to 25 from 18. A big 14 runs pummelled off the next, that suddenly dived to a run-a-ball mission at the death, with de Grandhomme (25* off 13) coolly blasting the winning runs.
While they had their moments, the Firebirds will rue some off-target pace, while Aces bowler Michael Bates had redeemed his own off-night by putting himself on a hat-trick with one ball left in the first innings. Remarkably that ball was also a wicket, however Bates had to settle for 2-33 as Jeetan Patel was run out.
The Firebirds now head to Auckland where the Aces host their own double-header starting this Friday with a tribute game to popular retired bowler Chris Martin. They then meet the Canterbury Wizards on Saturday evening.