Form was turned on its head at Pukekura Park this afternoon as the Devon Hotel Central Stags beat the top-of-the-table SKYCITY Northern Knights to register their first victory of the season - and an emphatic one at that.
The foundation for the 43-run walloping was built by an 111-run partnership between uncompromising 37-year-old Mathew Sinclair and New Zealand Under-19s captain Will Young - playing for the first time on his home Taranaki ground in his fledgling Stags HRV Cup career.
The combination of youth and experience worked sublimely. Young saw fit to punch Bradley Scott, a left-armer normally treated with respect given his testing angle of delivery, for two consecutive sixes. The blows took the aggressive Young to the doorstep of his maiden HRV Cup 50, which duly arrived in just 21 balls.
Not to be outdone, Sinclair quickly joined Young in the half-century club, completing his 10th career T20 fifty (a more studied hand, off 41 balls) before celebrating by smashing English import Steven Croft for three consecutive sixes of his own.
Sinclair then tried for a fourth skyrocket off Croft, but this time Daryl Mitchell hauled in the ball just centimetres inside the boundary. Curiously Sinclair had been dismissed for exactly the same score as he had made in his previous match - 71, off 52 balls - while the Knights turned it into a double breakthrough soon after when Will Young was caught on the midwicket boundary for a fine 57 off 29.
While bowlers Brent Arnel (1-28), Anton Devcich (1-30) and captain Scott Styris (0-25) all won minor battles along the way, the remaining Stags batsmen recovered quickly enough to take their total to 186/4 - then stood back and enjoyed a class bowling performance that had the competition frontrunners under pressure from the start.
Rather than open with slower bowlers on the small, pretty ground as the Knights had done, the Stags opted for a good old-fashioned bowling plan of opening with express pace and then delivering spin twins through the middle of the innings. It paid dividends immediately with Anton Devcich caught behind in the first over for a golden duck off Zimbabwean international Kyle Jarvis, then Adam Milne struck in the second over to send Daryl Mitchell back to the pavilion.
The Knights were reeling at 11/2, but it came at a cost to the Stags and their veteran soldier Mathew Sinclair, who injured his wrist in a collision with keeper Kruger van Wyk as they both dived for the catch. Sinclair was subbed off for the rest of the game with x-rays likely required.
Master blaster against the Auckland Aces in the previous round, Scott Styris entered the fray in the fifth over upon the loss of opener Brad Wilson, but along with Steven Croft, James Foster and James Marshall struggled to find the boundary often enough against the Nethula-Kain spin double act through the meat of the innings.
Leg spinner Nethula finished his complement with a standout 2-24, having claimed the wickets of potential big hitters Croft and Brett Hampton (the latter courtesy of a spectacular relay catch by Marty Kain and Milne on the long-on boundary rope) while Kain turned in 1-31, having removed Foster cheaply.
It was left to skipper Styris to attempt to perform a miracle rescue act as the required run rate began ascending above 20 runs per over at just the three-quarters mark of the faltering reply, but the death knell came when he was needlessly run out by Anurag Verma in the 19th over, who was playing just his second HRV Cup match and stranded Styris mid-pitch when he struck the ball cleanly yet didn't run. Verma was then himself dismissed on the fifth ball of the 19th over, so that the Stags had the added fillip of bowling the Knights out in addition to a stunning victory.
Styris had ultimately backed up his individual heroics in the previous match against the Aces with a not insignificant 77 off 47, but he'll be left questioning what went so wrong after winning just his second toss of the season and electing to chase for the first time.
Anton Devcich, Styris and Brent Arnel had all begun well with the ball, with English pro Foster showing off his slick keeping skills yet again this season as he pulled off a stunning running, diving catch away from the stumps to dismiss Jamie How off Arnel after How top-edged one to the heavens on 17.
How's exit, however, triggered the key partnership of the innings, one the Knights evidently could not match today - and to rub salt into the Knights' wounds, their competition net run rate took a hit, which sees them now drop below the Wellington Firebirds on the points table into second place.
The Knights head back home to play their next two matches at Mount Maunganui, against the Firebirds on New Year's Day and then the Auckland Aces on January 6.
The Stags meanwhile remain in home territory but transfer to Nelson where they have first crack at the Wizards in the other New Year's Day match. Delighted to have broken their duck against a strong side, there may well also be some nervousness hovering in the Central camp tonight over the injury to their most experienced player.
HRV Cup Points
Wellington Firebirds - 16
Northern Knights - 16
Otago Volts - 12
Auckland Aces - 8
Central Stags - 4
Canterbury Wizards - 0
Full points table: http://www.blackcaps.co.nz/domestic/points-table/137/hrv-cup.aspx