A New Zealand Twenty20 record-equalling bowling performance saw the Hell Wellington Firebirds easily extinguished by the SKYCITY Northern Knights at the Hawkins Basin Reserve this evening.
Quick bowler Ben Laughlin, one of the Knights' two Australian pros for the front half of their campaign, bounced back from a poor first over - in which he conceded 11 runs against fellow Australian pro Travis Birt (44 off 39) and a clean-striking Michael Papps (32 off 25) - to finish with career-best figures of 4-1-28-6 that ripped away the Firebirds' chances of posting a competitive total.
With devastatingly accurate variations, Laughlin claimed six wickets in the space of 10 deliveries, including a triple wicket maiden in the 15th that saw Stephen Murdoch deceived by pace (caught by Trent Boult for 9), skipper James Franklin bowled by a peach next ball for 12 and Luke Woodcock yorked for a duck two balls later.
Plummeting from 103-3 to 104-6, worse was to follow for Firebirds fans as Laughlin's fourth and final over pulled the other leg out from under them, leaving them floored at 116-9.
The match-turning performance equalled Ian Butler's New Zealand Twenty20 record and smashed the previous best Twenty20 hauls by any Knights bowler by some distance.
Struggling on to 128 before Tim Southee ended their innings with a yorker, the Firebirds' total of 128 was never enough to threaten the strong Knights line-up. Although captain Daniel Flynn was an early casualty to former teammate Brent Arnel, the Knights were permitted to calmly tick off their targets, the required run rate never rising above seven.
It took the fire of Shaun Tait to end a 48-run partnership between pro Dan Harris (40 off 43) and BJ Watling (46* off 32), but at only three wickets down in the 16th over, the Firebirds' cause appeared lost. They then blew a gift chance to run out BJ Watling, who had failed to notice his partner Daryl Mitchell slipping over at the other end after completing one run, allowing the Knights to cruise to a seven-wicket victory with an over up their sleeve.
The win sees the Knights overtake the Otago Volts at the head of the points table while the Firebirds, after their season opener tonight, will be looking to improve in their home double header against the Devon Hotel Central Stags on Friday evening and Auckland Aces the following night.