The closest match of the opening round by far of the NZCT National Club Championships in Auckland was a thriller that went the distance on the number two ground between Wellington’s Eastern Suburbs and Christchurch’s St Albans.
Sent in, Easts had set St Albans a chase of 217 after the Wellingtonians were all out on the stroke of 50 overs in their innings. Opening pace bowler James Tapper did the bulk of the damage with his 4-27 off 10 overs, going for fewer than three an over as Easts showed him due respect.
Allrounder and two-time Player of the Tournament Jamie Gibson had meanwhile top-scored with 55 before he was caught, and would go on to claim two wickets.
But it was two wickets in the space of three deliveries from Wellington Firebird Michael Bracewell — far better known for his batting than his off-spinners — that later brought Easts back fighting, into the contest.
The “Saints” had been well set at 139 for two, The opening pair of Dan Sharples (53 off 30) and Greg Dawson (61 off 85) having both produced half centuries in a flying start to the chase.
First drop James O’Gorman looked to be carrying on their fine work before Bracewell produced his double strike in the 26th over. From there, Easts began exerting more pressure to make regular breakthroughs, until they had their quarry nine down after Ili Tugaga picked up his second wicket with St Albans still needing another four runs.
Sixteen balls remained at that moment, but the pressure intensified when number eleven, Aaron Johnstone — the club’s most capped player — couldn’t find a run off any of Tugaga’s remaining four balls in the 48th over.
A single to Bailen Thatcher and then a wide conceded by Easts captain Lance Dry in the 49th brought them closer, before Johnstone finally managed to scramble a two to win the nailbiting match by one wicket, with eight balls to spare.
Former repeat champions Easts will be looking to get on the board in Round Two tomorrow in another tough match against defending champions Napier Tech, while St Albans step over to the number one ground to meet Parnell, the Auckland side also looking for its first win. All matches are free admission and live-scored at nzc.nz