A delighted Hell Wellington Firebirds unit bounded to an outright lead on the HRV Twenty20 table today with a disciplined win over an out-of-sorts SKYCITY Northern Knights at Mount Maunganui.
The Knights, sent in on a pitch that smiled on their fulsome spin attack, started well by knocking the top off the Firebirds inside six overs, with Trent Boult, Scott Kuggeleijn and Jono Boult all picking up early wickets.
But fielding would prove the difference between the teams as the hosts shelled more catches than they held - and, crucially, Stephen Murdoch (57 off 46) was given three lives before he cashed in to bring up his half-century.
Batting partner James Franklin chimed in, walloping a second six from Kuggeleijn's second over to post the Firebirds' 100 in the 15th, and he, too, was spilled in the deep before their 90-run stand was eventually broken in the 18th over - when Murdoch was found well short of his ground by BJ Watling, collecting a sharp throw from Daryl Mitchell.
Watling had earlier accounted for Grant Elliott with a canny leg-side take after the Wellington all-rounder feathered an attempted reverse sweep off Jono Boult: the dismissal of the innings.
The Murdoch-Franklin partnership stood tall in the modest tally of 145-6, setting the Knights a run chase of just over seven an over. But for the second time in three days, a relatively low chase would prove too much for the Knights, Daryl Mitchell leading the scoresheet in reply with just 31.
With opener Anton Devcich and Brad Wilson already back in the pavilion, two big wickets in the seventh over - Watling lbw to Brent Arnel, followed immediately by hard-hitting captain Daniel Flynn run out after a mid-pitch muck-up with Scott Styris - were the last things the home side needed just as the Wellington spinners were warming up to lock things down through the middle. Left needing 50 runs from the last four overs, the pressure told as wickets kept falling, the Firebirds successfully restricting their hosts to 124-9.
Pace bowling mentor Arnel was delighted with the team's unified effort in the field against his old team. "It was a huge win for us, one very much needed. Our bowlers knew they all needed to do the hard yards today, knowing that it was likely going to be a low-scoring game. It was the sort of game where just one bowler having a bad day could have lost it for us, but every bowler contributed and did their job - and the ground fielding was absolutely outstanding."
Graham Napier finished with 3-18, while spinner Luke Woodcock turned in a tight 1-19 off his four. The Firebirds' next opponents are the Otago Volts on 8 January while the Knights, too, have another big contest coming up at the business end of the competition, heading to Auckland to take on the Aces the same day.