Resurgent defending champions Canterbury have named a solid squad ahead of tomorrow’s Ford Trophy Elimination Final at Auckland’s Colin Maiden Park where they will face second-lifers the Auckland Aces. Blake Coburn and Andrew Hazeldine drop out of the Canterbury 13, leg-spinning veteran Todd Astle making his return to the 12 named for tomorrow’s sudden death knockout.
Back from the dead, just a fortnight ago Canterbury had been bottom of the points table heading into the final two rounds of the regular season, in grave danger of missing the Finals Series altogether.
They scraped in when wet weather ensured they would hold off their opponents the Wellington Firebirds for the fourth qualifier spot at the end of the eight rounds — then knocked out Northern Districts in Saturday’s 3v4 Semi-Final by setting a new Canterbury record for the biggest winning margin in their 46 seasons of List A cricket.
Prior to the Semi-Final, Canterbury had won just two matches from their eight rounds (including two washouts) after a horror start to the competition. Missing the influential all-round skills at six of captain Andrew Ellis (who had broken his hand facing his first ball of the summer in a warm-up match); both exciting young strike bowlers Kyle Jamieson and Ed Nuttall (injured) and BLACKCAPS Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Matt Henry, even the services of England international Ben Stokes for the early rounds couldn’t prevent three consecutive losses in the first three rounds.
Now back to full strength, only five players from the opening round of the season — Cole McConchie, Todd Astle, Tim Johnston, Michael Pollard and Cameron Fletcher — remain in the Canterbury squad named for tomorrow’s Elimination Final, against a side that went four from eight in the regular season.
It will effectively be the third sudden death scenario on the trot for the red and blacks who will be headed for Saturday’s Grand Final in New Plymouth against top qualifiers the Central Stags should Canterbury trump the Aces tomorrow. A Stags-Canterbury Grand Final would be a repeat of the 2016 Ford Trophy Grand Final at Pukekura Park, in which even Ellis’s maiden Ford Trophy century could not prevent the Stags winning the title by a hefty 156 runs.
Canterbury is rediscovering its one-day mojo just at the right time in order to keep its chance of defending The Ford Trophy alive while the Auckland Aces are coming off a sobering loss in the Pukekura Park 1v2 Semi-Final where they were comprehensively outplayed by one of the strongest Central Stags line-ups on record.
Nicholls meanwhile produced his third List A century in Whangarei on Saturday, sharing a 116-run third wicket partnership with Tom Latham that set up their clutch win against the Burger King Super Smash champions.
Ellis, too, has been in solid form with the bat, his hand woes evidently well behind him with scores of 93 not out, 29 and 50 (off just 39 balls) since The Ford Trophy resumed. His half century in Whangarei was only his 11th in 114 List A matches, and pushed his batting average up a notch to now sit above 33.00.
The brutal, 168-run victory over ND broke the previous Canterbury record for biggest winning margin (by runs) of 156 that the team had set against the Stags at Hagley Oval in the 2012/13 season.
By virtue of finishing second on the points table, the Aces earned the hosting rights for tomorrow’s Elimination Final and will be hoping to add to their 3-1 record over Canterbury in all forms of white-ball cricket this season. Exciting young left-armer Ben Lister returns to the Aces’ squad from illness alongside Robbie O’Donnell while Donovan Grobbelaar and Matt McEwan drop out of the squad that lost on Saturday.
Elimination Final squads
Andrew Ellis (captain), Todd Astle, Michael Davidson, Cameron Fletcher, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Johnston, Tom Latham, Cole McConchie, Henry Nicholls, Ed Nuttall, Michael Pollard
Craig Cachopa (captain), Finn Allen, Michael Barry, Jamie Brown, Lockie Ferguson, Ben Horne, Ben Lister, Tarun Nethula, Robbie O’Donnell, Glenn Phillips, Jeet Raval, Sean Solia
THE FORD TROPHY Elimination Final
WEDNESDAY 21 February 11am
Colin Maiden Park, Auckland
Auckland Aces v Canterbury
THE FORD TROPHY Grand Final
SATURDAY 24 February 11am
Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
Central Stags v winner of Elimination Final
LIVE on SKY Sport