He wasn't the guy who carried his bat, he wasn't the top-scorer for his team, but the Jesse Ryder magic continued for the HELL Wellington Firebirds when he picked up the pivotal wicket that s
aw the Firebirds reach an HRV Cup Final for the first time.
Ryder took two for 32 in the late stages of the absorbing battle, as the Auckland Aces - gunning for a chance at an HRV Cup three-peat - came under rising pressure to emulate the Firebirds' 182 for four.
Natural born hitter Colin de Grandhomme stood in the pure afternoon sunshine of the capital, knowing he and the recalled Reece Young needed 14 an over through the last four in order to meet the Volts in Dunedin.
Enter Ryder for his third turn with the ball. With his first three deliveries offering only singles, de Grandhomme felt the squeeze to take a boundary. He climbed into the next delivery, but the length was again a smidgen too challenging and the big Aucklander watched in horror as Harry Boam snaffled an easy catch at long off.
At 128 for six, it proved the killer blow to the Aces' crumbling hopes. Their required run-rate shot up over 23 within a matter of balls. Try as they may, Andre Adams and Young couldn't find the boundary often enough against the control of Ryder and consistent young left-arm spinner Mark Houghton. Adams was lucky to escape being caught off the first ball of Ryder's last over when Boam infringed on the boundary rope, but then Young was stumped by Luke Ronchi off Ryder's final delivery to complete another happy day at the office for the Firebirds star and all but close the heartbroken Aces out.
Apart from some errant fielding - which saw four spilled catches (only two of them difficult) and a glaring missed stumping that had let Young off the hook in the 15th over, the Firebirds played the better hand throughout. They'd won the toss and got off to a typically blistering start thanks to this season's highest run-maker in the competition, Ryder, who now stands a full 172 runs clear of his nearest rival, Mathew Sinclair - whose account is already closed.
The Jesse Ryder show lasted only three overs, but it was spectacular, beautifully executed and got the Firebirds off to an ideal start. Displaying his brutal strength one ball, his artful finesse the next, Ryder plundered 10 boundaries in
his 17-ball 46, including consecutive, sweet wristy flicks into the pohutukawa-fringed terraces in the first over, ruining Matt Quinn's opening effort for 20 runs.
The Aces' attack recovered well after Quinn finally pinned the exciting Ryder, an ebullient Aaron Finch catching a lofted shot in front of the terraces. Finch, fresh from his Australian ODI debut after a rock-solid Big Bash season, was an x-factor signing brought into this match to replace unavailable pro Phil Mustard, and helped put the brakes on the Firebirds, his first two overs going for a total of just seven runs.
But whilst boundaries were hard to come by through the middle stages of the innings, the experienced Michael Papps was patiently accumulating with Cameron Borgas before pouncing on Finch's return to the crease, the 12th over costing a sudden 17 runs. From there the restraints were loosened, Papps' 50 arriving off 38 balls before Borgas (29) ballooned the ball to Craig Cachopa on the boundary to end their 79-run stand for the third wicket.
However, Ryder's overwhelmingly aggressive start had eased so much of the pressure on the remainder of the line-up, and Papps finished off the job by remaining unbeaten on 70 off 48 at the break.
The Firebirds then got off to the perfect start in the defence, Ili Tugaga trapping a despondent Lou Vincent for a first-ball royal duck. When Houghton picked up the so-often steadying influence of Aces skipper Gareth Hopkins with a classic, flighted caught and bowled in the next over, the ball was in the Firebirds' court - so long as they could control the punishing hitting ability of import Finch.
Luke Woodcock, Wellington's most successful bowler of the competition with 13 wickets after today's clash, was unlucky not to pick up Cachopa on 23 when a skier fell between a confused Papps and Borgas, but he made the critical breakthrough in his next over when Finch chopped one on - the Australian having bulldozed his way to 44 off 30 and a partnership with Cachopa of 72 off 45 balls.
Needing 97 off the last 10 overs, Cachopa fell to a fired-up Scott Kuggeleijn just seven balls later, and when de Grandhomme couldn't turn the game back in the Aces' favour, it remained just a matter of time before Wellington nailed their historic 23-run victory in front of a thrilled home audience.