Young Wellington Firebirds opener Tim Robinson’s breakthrough innings guided the defending champions to a tense last-over win against the Otago Volts in the men’s Super Smash in Queenstown.
The 19-year-old hit 65 off 49 balls in only his fifth first-class match as the Firebirds snapped a three-game losing streak to climb off the bottom and leapfrog the Volts, who suffered their third defeat in a row at the John Davies Oval.
Robinson brought up his first Super Smash 50 in 37 balls with a clip over fine leg for four but was out in the 18th over to Anaru Kitchen after being dropped by Nick Kelly on 57.
However, a superb cameo from Nathan Smith (38no off 18) finished the job in the final overs. He hit four crucial sixes and shared a 45-run partnership with Robinson for the fifth wicket.
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The Firebirds needed nine from the final over, bowled by Otago paceman Jacob Duffy, and Smith lobbed an astonishing six over Otago keeper Max Chu’s head off the first ball.
He then smacked another over the leg side to earn Wellington a five-wicket victory with four balls to spare.
Both teams were desperate to get a second win to boost their play-off hopes and the Firebirds improved their record to 2-3, while Otago lost their fourth match from six despite a brilliant performance from Volts spinner Michael Rippon (2-24).
Anaru Kitchen’s fabulous 54 off 34 blasted Otago to 166-7 and steadied a top-order collapse that Black Caps all-rounder Jimmy Neesham inspired on his comeback for Wellington in domestic cricket.
Neesham (2-17) bowled three impressive overs, but Kitchen was the star of the first innings, smashing five fours and three sixes.
In reply, Black Caps opener Finn Allen (32 off 13) threatened to go big for Wellington but chipped Matt Bacon to midwicket in the third over.
The Firebirds, who were 72-1 after the powerplay because of Robinson’s equally positive start, were well ahead of the required run rate after Allen smashed three fours and three sixes.
The 50-run partnership between Robinson and No 3 Troy Johnson then ended in the 10th over when the latter was out for 18 to Otago skipper Hamish Rutherford, whose counterpart, Michael Bracewell (1), was gone the next over in Rippon’s wicket maiden and the Firebirds were wobbling.
Angus McKenzie caught Neesham (4) in his second attempt in five balls for Rippon’s second, leaving Wellington 100-4 in the 13th over with the run rate rising, but Robinson kept them in the match, bettering his previous high score of 32.
Otago won the toss and batted first but lost four wickets in four overs after a decent start in the powerplay in which they lost Rutherford for 12.
They were 51-1 and when Neesham bowled opener Josh Tasman-Jones (35 off 26), it triggered a mini collapse for the Volts, who were 77-5 after 10 overs when Neil Broom (6), Nick Kelly (8) and Llew Johnson (0) fell cheaply.
Kitchen led the comeback, though, with a 75-run partnership off 49 balls with Rippon (28 off 25) until Smith had him caught at deep mid-wicket.
Otago reached 166-7 and had the Firebirds in trouble until Smith’s four sixes hurt them in the final overs.
At John Davies Oval, Queenstown: Otago Volts 166-7 (Anaru Kitchen 54 off 33 balls, Josh Tasman-Jones 35 off 26; Jimmy Neesham 2-17) lost to Wellington Firebirds 170-5 from 19.2 overs (Tim Robinson 65 off 49, Nathan Smith 38no off 18, Finn Allen 32 off 13; Michael Rippon 2-24) by five wickets.
Batting MVP: Tim Robinson (Firebirds)
Bowling MVP: Michael Rippon (Volts)