A southern derby at Timaru's Aorangi Oval this afternoon ended as a high stakes nail-biter with the Otago Volts and Canterbury Wizards battling to the death in the closest match of the season.
After losing three from three heading into today's clash, the Canterbury Wizards were desperate to turn around their form, but hit turbulence almost as soon as young skipper Tom Latham sent the Otago Volts in to bat.
Hamish Rutherford quickly took full advantage of Aorangi Oval's short boundaries and the initial power play, striking eight fours en route to a brisk 37. He was aided by Iain Robertson after the early loss of Neil Broom, but even when Robertson played a rash slog to Ryan McCone in the fifth over - skying a steepler that was gobbled by Andy Ellis - the Volts had a strong launch pad in place with 11 boundaries from those first five overs.
Captain Sam Wells' lean HRV Cup season with the bat continued when he charged Todd Astle only to be stumped, and Canterbury counterpart Latham was in the action again the very next ball as he collected a throw from George Worker to run out Rutherford, whose 37 took shape from 25 balls.
With Ryan ten Doeschate and Michael Bracewell both new at the crease, another quick wicket might have produced some handy damage control for the Wizards, but
classy import ten Doeschate, who had scored at least 60 in both his previous appearances this season, was on song yet again and raced to 30 in five overs - including two well-judged sixes off the pick of the bowlers, Todd Astle and Brendon Diamanti.
Both natural strokemakers, Ten Doeschate and Bracewell set about building the defining partnership of the innings, posting 101 runs for the fifth wicket. Diamanti's previous three overs had gone for a combined total of just 18 runs, but the batters plundered his last turn at the crease for 13 runs.
The scoring spree continued as they welcomed Logan van Beek to the crease by taking 16 runs from him, before smashing young Matt Henry's last over for 20. Timing the ball sweetly, Bracewell's second six off that Henry over - a shot that soared over midwicket and touched down outside the park - brought up his 50 off just 23 deliveries at the three-quarter mark.
Ten Doeschate himself nearly had a cracking 50, but was left kicking himself after chopping one on against Ryan McCone when he was on 47. The reintroduction of import Mitchell Claydon then brought about Ian Butler's dismissal, assisted by Andy Ellis, who showed no sign of the injury that kept him out of the previous match as he pulled in a brilliant high catch at extra cover.
Pressure was now suddenly back on the Volts, the visitors wary of being bowled out short of their allotted overs. In scintillating touch, Bracewell, on 59, needed late order stability to capitalise on the last three overs.
But Van Beek recovered from his initial pummelling to turn in two tight death overs, the 19th going for just four runs, as well as delivering the big wicket of Bracewell. The 21-year-old powerhouse finally mistimed one, spooning the ball to a grateful Astle on the long off boundary to end a fine knock of 61 off 32 balls.
With Claydon bowling the final over, it meant the Otago Volts fell just short of breaking the 200 mark, but the Volts would have been satisfied with their competitive 196/7. Little did they know just how vital those last runs would prove.
Needing almost 10 an over from the outset, the Cantabrian openers tapped Mark Craig for a handy 16 runs off the second over before Brad Cachopa was caught off the last delivery. Tom Latham settled in quickly, with George Worker keeping pace with the required run rate by drawing on some old-fashioned working of the ball and running twos.
Keenly aware they needed to up the ante and release some pressure, the eighth over saw them move up a gear as they launched into Nick Beard with gusto. Level-headed Latham cracked a six off his first delivery, with Worker blasting two more at its finish to steal an easy 25 runs off the over.
That pushed the Wizards to the brink of their 100, the Volts having been a sober 72/4 by comparison. Ian Butler's vast experience paid dividends however, luring Worker (47 off 30) into a miscue to break the ever more dangerous stand. More importantly Butler had gone for just four singles. Ten Doeschate then capitalised on his good work by removing Latham in the next over - a crucial wicket, so that once again in the match two new batsmen were at the crease. Yet another potential turning point: which team would grab it?
The frustration of the bowlers was evident as the Cantabrian batsmen kept pace with the required run rate which still hovered around a gettable 10 an over. Gareth Andrew kept the middle of the innings stable for the Wizards, coolly mustering 37 from just 19 balls to register his first significant score of the season at a vital time.
When Fuller finally removed Andrew at the three-quarter mark, the teams were still neck and neck. Crucially Todd Astle (26) wasted no time in keeping up with required run rate, until the Wizards found themselves needing just seven runs from the final over.
On a boutique ground the task should have been simple, but 18-year-old Jacob Duffy was about to prove he could rise to the occasion. He caught a lucky break with his first delivery as ten Doeschate dived to pull off a magnificent low catch, with the ball flying like the proverbial tracer bullet. Astle was gone. Sam Wells then redeemed himself by stopping the next delivery at extra cover for no run. Next, Logan van Beek survived a screeching lbw appeal: just a leg bye conceded.
Now the Canterbury Wizards needed six off three balls to record their first win. Duffy turned, galloping in off his long run. It was an attempted yorker that morphed into a full toss when Van Beek came at him, only to get through his shot a fraction too early. Just the one run. Five from two needed.
Now it was 21-year-old Matt Henry's turn, cracking Duffy's next ball to midwicket. But Beard stopped it in a hurry: one run. It all came down to Van Beek, who needed to slam a four off the last ball to win the match for his under-pressure team. Driving Duffy to extra cover, he and Henry scrambled desperately, but they knew instantly that their only chance of that third run needed to tie the match, at least, rested on a misfield - and whilst Otago's fielding had been sub-par earlier in the game, now, under white-hot pressure, it was rock-solid.
In a match bursting with rising stars Duffy deserves full marks for his bowling display at the death, but he'll tip his Otago cap to 22-year-old James Fuller whose stranglehold on the penultimate over set up the exciting finish. Fuller walked off with an economical 1-21 off his complement of four, superb figures at this ground.
The Volts' dramatic one-run victory, their third win on the trot, propels them to second place on the points table (equal on points with the Wellington Firebirds but ahead on net run rate), but the winless Wizards were left crushed by a critical so-close result. Having lost four from four now, ultimately it leaves them still languishing with the Central Stags at the bottom of the table. As luck would have it, they will meet the Stags in the next two rounds, so at least one team will surely break their duck.
The Volts meanwhile will hope to draw on their mid-competition momentum as they attempt to down reigning champs the Auckland Aces, who they meet in their next two encounters.
HRV Cup Points
Northern Knights 16
Otago Volts 12
Wellington Firebirds 12
Auckland Aces 8
Canterbury Wizards 0
Central Stags 0
Full points table: http://www.blackcaps.co.nz/domestic/points-table/137/hrv-cup.aspx