There's not likely to have been many Finals which were won on the last ball of the game, but Pukekohe Metro Reserves can claim to have played in one...and won it!
The top two teams in the Reserve Grade, Pukekohe and Manukau, had met three times during the regular season, and Pukekohe had a perfect record coming into this final. On each of their previous meetings during the season, Pukekohe had won the toss and elected to field, so it was a huge relief when Mark Fleming called the coin toss correctly and put Manukau into bat once more.
The Bruce Pulman Outer Oval is renowned for being a very bouncy wicket and Mandhiraj 'Tanny' Singh wasted no time in demonstrating this to the Manukau openers. His first delivery of the game almost took the opener's head off but was gloved into a vacant backward-square for three runs. His next delivery was a perfect yorker to a batsman who was probably expecting a repeat of the first ball. The stumps were sent flying as Manukau's opener was bowled for a golden duck and Pukekohe had a perfect start.
Manukau has played the same all-out attack style of cricket all season and Pukekohe expected more of the same in the final. Lee Kane was unfortunate that he didn't snare a couple of wickets in his first over, with Manukau's other opener hitting a ball straight to John Keen at mid-on but, on this occasion, John's dependable hands couldn't hang on to the ball. The opener also flashed another delivery just over the slip cordon as he made their tactic perfectly clear.
With a sharply-rising wicket and an attacking batting strategy, the game was going to offer up lots of catches, and so it proved. The old adage of 'catches win matches' was never more evident than in this final. By the end of the Manukau innings, Pukekohe would have taken 8 catches.
Manukau's scoring rate remained typically high and it wasn't going to be long before they offered up more catching opportunities. In Lee Kane's second over, Manukau's big-hitting number 3, Willem, mis-timed a full toss and lobbed it to short cover where Andy Lincoln gratefully accepted the catch diving forwards. Willem had already scored a quick-fire 24, including five boundaries, and the score had raced onto 36 for 2 by the end of the 4th over.
This wicket crucially served to slow down Manukau's scoring rate as Tanny and Lee built up pressure by restricting runs. Lee had been smashed for 29 runs from his first two overs, but only conceded one run off the bat from his next two. Pukekohe brought on their first bowling change after 10 overs, with the score on 58 for 2. Tom Bingham took the crucial wicket of Jono, Manukau's opener, in his first over, with the ball being pushed out to the unfaltering huge hands of Tanny Singh at cover. Both of the Manukau batsmen at the crease were leg-side prodders and Pukekohe's fielding and bowling was strangling their opportunities to score fluently. The pressure became too much for Chandra as he stepped up the wicket to Homi Mistry, only to miss the ball and be stumped by Ian Pool. Pukekohe wasn't done yet, and in the last over before drinks, Homi had another Manukau batsman brilliantly caught at first slip by Sarang Padey who jumped and took the catch at full stretch, two-handed above his head. Drinks were taken immediately, with the score on 92 for 5.
In the first over back after drinks, Manukau's captain was dismissed by his namesake as Tom Bingham claimed another scalp caught, once again, by Tanny at short cover. At 93 for 6, Manukau was in real trouble, but they have strong batting right throughout their line-up and the tail had to come out and wag for them to make a game of the final. Kevin and Hayden decided to take the fight to the Pukekohe bowlers, and they rode their luck as they pushed the score along in double-time. After 5 overs, Homi Mistry had figures of 2 wickets for 7 runs...after 6 overs, that read 2 for 24!
Their luck was going to run out eventually as their 'hit and hope' style of batting was reaping short-term reward, and it wasn't long before the next wicket fell. Kevin lobbed a slower ball back to Tanny for his third catch of the game and in his next over, he had Hayden caught at long off by Mark Fleming to snare his third wicket of the game also. The score was now 147 for 8, and Manukau had run out of any recognised batters. However, the last two wickets managed to add a very valuable 43 runs in the next 7 overs before they finally succumbed with 190 runs on the board.
Requiring 191 to win, Pukekohe's batsmen didn't need to panic, they just needed to survive the new ball and a very bouncy wicket. Manukau had a team loaded with good young cricketers who could all bat and bowl, so it wasn't going to be easy to chase down the target score. Pukekohe made a slow but steady start to the innings, knowing that if Steve Hayward could stay in the middle and build an innings, then the run chase would be well within their means. Unfortunately, in the 7th over, with the score on 18, Steve got a thick inside edge off a rising delivery and it deflected off his pads and onto the stumps. Sarang Padey was riding his luck and got put down at square leg from a ball which should have been held onto comfortably. Pukekohe's luck didn't last long though, and they were dealt a double blow with John Keen lobbing a catch to square leg and, the very next ball, Andy Lincoln did exactly the same to be caught off an attempted pull shot for a golden duck! The fielder had made amends for his earlier indiscretion by holding onto two catches from successive balls to have Pukekohe worried at 51 for 3 after 14 overs.
By drinks, Pukekohe had tip-toed through to 73 for 3, needing 118 runs from the final 20 overs. It wasn't until Manukau's left-arm spinner, Kevin, bowled Sarang in the 26th over, with the score on 93, that Pukekohe picked up the scoring rate with Ian and Homi at the crease. Sarang had been dropped 3 times on his way to 38, but sustained a minor leg injury in the process which meant that his running between the wickets was hampered.
Kevin's bowling figures suffered the same fate as Homi's had done for Pukekohe. After three overs he had figures of 1 wicket for 5 runs. His next four overs went for 46 runs, thanks to Ian Pool, Homi Mistry and Tanny Singh. They put on 79 runs in an eventful 10 overs. Ian Pool raced through to his second half-century of the season and then retired hurt with a strained back. Soon afterwards, Tanny was bowled for 20 and, at 172 for 5 from 35 overs, Pukekohe had almost reached their target. Lee Kane and Homi Mistry were set to see Pukekohe home with overs to spare but a sharp piece of fielding saw Homi run out for 23 with Pukekohe still needing 13 runs to win from 4 overs.
Pukekohe's captain, Mark Fleming, walked out to the middle, and Manukau brought back their opening bowlers. With the score on 184 for 6, Lee Kane was run out as Mark attempted to exploit a mis-field, and this brought Tom Bingham to the middle. Pukekohe needed 7 runs to win from 2 overs. With the help of three wides and two singles to Mark, Pukekohe moved on to 189 for 7 after 39 overs, needing one run to tie and two runs to win, although a tied score would still have resulted in a win for Pukekohe as long as they didn't concede their three remaining wickets. Three dot balls followed, and the tension was becoming palpable as Pukekohe now had three balls remaining in which to score at least one run or risk losing the final by the slimmest of margins.
Ball 4 of the 40th over saw the faintest of leg byes run down to fine leg and Pukekohe's batsmen scampered through for a single and what would surely be the match-winning run. Tom Bingham now had two balls to make the result safe...first ball was a dot...
The field came in for the final ball of the game, hoping to block any chance of a quick single. The bowler arrowed the full-pitched delivery in at Tom's pads and he deftly flicked the ball away through a gap between the fielders and into mid-wicket for the winning run! Pukekohe had won the final on the last ball of the season!!!
It was a fitting finale to a long season in which Pukekohe had finished top of the league and deservedly take the title as best team in the division. The end result shows how evenly matched the two top teams were all season.
End result - Manukau 190/10 lost to Pukekohe Metro 191/7 by 3 wickets.
Full scorecard here