South Island were not invited to the State Shield final which Auckland and Northern Districts played as the start to the festival cricket weekend in Auckland yesterday, but joined the party with a thrilling last-over win in the four-innings North-South game at North Harbour Stadium today.
The game was very evenly-fought over the four 25-over sessions. North scored 165 for nine wickets and 161 for eight, and South 173 for seven and as the largish crowd groaned and cheered through the last hour of a superbly sunny day, Shayne O'Connor (17 not out) and Carl Anderson (24 not out) put together the unbeaten 24-run stand that won the game with two wickets and three balls to spare.
Like the Shield final the day before, today's game contained a smattering of thrills and spills, and perhaps a higher standard of one-day cricket - in terms of accurate bowling and clever stroke-play - than the Shield finalists managed in their muddling match 24 hours beforehand.
As a change the North-South match was highly competitive - which the Shield final was not - it contained a valiant fightback against the odds by South in the final innings, and there was the romantic introduction of a youngster to keep wickets for North in the final innings.
Chris Nevin, the North keeper, strained a leg muscle in the first innings, and Auckland officials had invited an 18-year-old, Doug Winger, to act as fielding substitute. It may or may not have been a coincidence that Winger had just left Auckland Grammar where his wicket-keeping skills had been honed by Tony Blain, the former New Zealand keeper who teaches at Grammar.
It may also have been pertinent that Blain was at the match, in his role as the Radio Sport comment man.
So while Blain tried not too look too proud, Winger completed a smart run out, and then a fluent stumping as North seemed to have the South second innings, and the outcome of the game, at their mercy.
There were several rousing innings in the match, which stopped just short of being an organised slogathon. Llorne Howell opened the South first innings with a rollicking 63 from 53 balls, six fours and two sixes, and a lively and likely youngster Jesse Ryder, a left-hander from Hawke's Bay, hit the ball with fearsome power and youthful confidence for 43 in the North second innings.
But the man who turned the match toward the South was the Otago batsman Chris Gaffaney who scored 52 from 27 balls, 10 of them going for fours, at a time when the South second innings was beginning to wilt.
Gaffaney and Michael Papps added 52 for the third wicket after Howell and Craig Cumming had been brushed aside and Gaffaney had put South in the five or six runs an over range by the time he left at 87 for four. In one splendid over Gaffaney hit four consecutive fours from Michael Mason, who had already taken two wickets at bargain rates.
Then came the canny but clever approach of Anderson, Stephen Cunis and O'Connor as they thumbed their noses at the North bowlers (who had South on the ropes at 103 for five and six) by scoring the winning 52 runs for the last two wickets.