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The Christchurch Press Star role for back-room boy
Geoff Longley - 8 February 1999

By his own admission, Gary Stead's batting form before Christmas was ``disgusting''.

While his Riccarton club may have suffered, the rest of Canterbury is grateful he saved his best for the Shell Cup one-day cricket competition, where the provincial captain led by deed.

In Saturday's final against Wellington at the Basin Reserve, Stead, promoted in the order above Chris Harris, and with more illustrious colleagues falling about him, played a match-winning innings.

Stead's sensible 84 from 126 balls held a wobbly Canterbury innings together and ensured Wellington would have a competitive target (218) to chase for victory.

The home team, as so often in the past, folded under the pressure and fell 49 runs short - but not before giving Canterbury some worries.

Stead's innings capped an especially successful season for the Canterbury player who, in the past, has generally been one of the back-room boys in the shadow of a star-studded line-up.

This season, without the Black Caps for much of the cup campaign, Stead's batting has stood out like a beacon and he finished with the highest Shell Cup aggregate in the country - 468 runs at an average of 52.

Stead said he was pleased to have found form for Canterbury after scratching around for runs for much of the club season. ``Getting to bat on the better tracks probably helped me get back into nick,'' he said. Stead said he batted up the order because Canterbury lost two early wickets.

He faced rampant Wellington fast-medium bowler Carl Bulfin, exploiting a helpful wicket after Canterbury had been sent in.

Wellington captain Roger Twose defended his decision not to bowl out Bulfin. The potential World Cup player only bowled eight of his maximum 10 overs.

Twose said he regarded spinner Glen White as a better option because, as the innings went on, the pitch had slowed up, and the slower Wellington bowlers, Gavin Larsen and Mark Jefferson, had been particularly effective.

``It seemed the faster anyone bowled the easier they were to score off so I held 'Bully' back,'' Twose said.

Stead survived Bulfin's early barrage after openers Llorne Howell and Nathan Astle had perished cheaply.

But he faced another crisis when Canterbury was 103 for five with all its top-order international batsmen gone.

With Gareth Hopkins and veteran campaigner Mark Priest, Stead fashioned two stubborn stands, which carried Canterbury beyond 200 and to some respectability. Stead's 84, his highest score this season, was more than the top five big names scored in total.

Stead played the percentages, working the ball intelligently around the field and ensuring the scoreboard and strike kept ticking over in masterly manner.

``I haven't done much in the last two or three games so it was nice to be able to contribute. After we lost those early wickets I put it on myself to be there at the end.''

Stead also played a role with his astute captaincy, juggling his bowlers about to initially knock the top off the Wellington batting. He then kept it contained, despite Phil Chandler and Gavin Larsen forming a promising partnership.

Canterbury had early jitters when Wellington openers Chris Nevin and Matthew Bell blazed 33 from the first five overs.

However, left-arm pace bowler Geoff Allott, bowling around the wicket, cramped up Nevin and Tim Boyer to set back the capital side.

Wellington slumped to 79 for five with Chris Cairns playing a key role in removing dangermen Roger Twose and Richard Petrie in two demanding spells.

The home side's hopes were revived when Chandler, its most consistent run-getter this season, and stalwart Larsen teamed.

Larsen, in perhaps his one-day provincial swansong, struck two sixes and Wellington climbed back into contention on the back of a 53-run stand.

Wellington needed 66 from the final 10 overs with four wickets in reserve, but Astle closed down the innings with two wickets, while Harris completed the execution with the final two victims.

Source: The Christchurch Press
Editorial comments can be sent to The Christchurch Press at press@press.co.nz