Two grand finals and the trophy cabinet at the Central Districts Cricket office in Napier remains bare after the hapless Stags lost the Ford Trophy in New Plymouth today.
The Stags bowlers had performed miracles in securing the Heinrich Malan-coached side to nail-biting victories as top qualifiers in the one-day campaign this domestic season but Pukekura Park continued to spurn them today as the second-placed Auckland Aces took the more difficult road to savour glory.
It was Groundhog Day for the hosts after skipper William Young had the ground advantage and won the toss - as opposed to Auckland counterpart Craig Cachopa who had only won one in the entire limited-overs campaign - before CD posted a total of 197 all out. Sinfully, though, they were 20 balls shy of the allotted 50 overs.
The scoreboard had a sorry look about it despite three meaty knocks from Young and Tom Bruce who scored 49 runs each at No 4 and 5, respectively, while No 6 Doug Bracewell (40) injected some respectability into a seamer-heavy line up but also showed he is mutating into an allrounder.
Frankly, the top order had failed to lay down a platform, as openers Jeet Raval and a mis-timing Glenn Phillips had, in CD's quest to accrue close to 300 runs on a postage-stamp park.
It was a promising start from CD openers George Worker and promoted Dane Cleaver after a decision to leave out Ben Smith for an extra seamer on a used wicket that was forecast to play low and slow. Bolshy batsman Joshua Clarkson, albeit not in his best form, was left lugging the drinks.
However, Black Caps speed merchant Lockie Ferguson was whipping and swinging the ball inwards to terrorise the batsmen, finishing with 3-28 off 9.4 overs, including two maidens.
But spinner Tarun Nethula had tightened the screws with 2-24 from 10 overs, including three maidens, to show why he was the top wicket taker in the format and part-timers Mark Chapman (3-41) and a wicket-less Phillips made it difficult to pick boundaries and sixes.
Regrettably it started turning pear shaped for the Stags when wicketkeeper Cleaver clutched his lower back while cutting the chalk at 2.1 overs before hobbling off retired hurt although he returned in the 32nd over to finish with a contribution of six runs.
Jesse Ryder came in at first drop with the promise of fireworks but the poker-faced former Black Cap sacrificed his wicket cheaply for five runs from an injudicious shot after surviving an lbw shout (bowler Ben Lister had delivered a no ball after overstepping the crease) and a hopeful leg side appeal for a nick that appeared to have brushed his pad.
In the run chase, Raval made a statement to Black Caps coach Mike Hesson with 47 runs but at the other end unwanted international Phillips showed why he was sent back to domestic cricket even though he top scored with 63 runs.
The Stags took the ball with a lot of endeavour but Adam Milne wasn't able to do as much with the ball as Ferguson had.
Fellow new-ball Black Cap seamer Seth Rance threatened to break a partnership that yielded 84 runs in 15 overs before Raval left but french cuts didn't disturb any furniture and two balls were up for snaffling at first slip but Ryder's reaction time just wasn't up to it.
Black Cap seamer Ben Wheeler and spinner Ajaz Patel did slow the haemorraghing but it was debatable whether a shade under four runs an over was going to be enough to contain.
This summer's best domestic seamer bowler, Blair Tickner, who should be in the national selectors' eye, gave some hope when he got Raval's scalp but the Aces batsmen were on their game this time despite losing heavily to CD in the preliminary final last week.
Chapman, as one would expect in twenty20 fashion, tore the heart out of the bowling attack with a few pinch hits to finish with 47 runs from 36 balls before Cachopa (10 not out) and Robbie O'Donnell (22no) saw them through with ease.
Tickner finished with 2-41 from 6.4 overs and Wheeler 2-31 from five overs.
All in all, it was a cruel end to the green army who had fought gallantly throughout the campaign to finish on top with just one loss but didn't win the game that mattered most.
Even Cachopa sympathised with a gutted Stags as the leaders of the pack.
"It's easy being a captain when the boys back you the way they did but, at the end of the day, they still have to execute well with the ball and take our catches and everyone did that," said Cachopa, the brother of former CD batsman Carl, when asked on TV what the win meant to them.
He said the Aces had got into the nets to practise and learned to deal with the pressure, conversely raising questions whether the almost fortnight break had proved to be detrimental to the Stags.
The Aucklanders also collected a $60,000 cheque for their troubles.
For the Stags, it must have revived the haunting scenes at Seddon Park, Hamilton, when they lost the Burger King Super Smash T20 grand final to the Northern Districts Knights on January 21.