The Auckland Aces are on the brink of securing entry to the Champions League Twenty20 tournament after crushing Pakistan’s Sialkot Stallions by six wickets.
Played at New Wanderers Stadium in South Africa, the Aces limited Sialkot to 130 for nine, before blasting their way to victory with six wickets and 17 balls in hand.
The win ensures they will have every chance of progressing, with a victory tonight over English side Hampshire guaranteeing their berth in the tournament.
Martin Guptill and Lou Vincent got the Aces pursuit off to the perfect start, putting on 32 for the opening wicket off 3.3 overs.
Having dashed to 20, Vincent fell when his thick edge was caught at thirdman. His replacement, Azhar Mahmood, ensured that the Aces maintained their momentum, who alongside Martin Guptill put the New Zealand side in a dominant position.
Halfway through the innings the Aces were looking comfortable at 79 for one, leaving just 52 to get off the last 60 deliveries. Four runs later though they lost their strike weapon, when Guptill was dismissed on 40.
That brought about the arrival of Anaru Kitchen who rotated the strike effectively in the initial stages.
Sialkot though found some hope when Sarfraz Ahmed made a double strike in the 14th over.
Firstly Ahmood was caught off a wide delivery on 24, before Colin de Grandhomme edged one without scoring.
That left the Aces at 97 for four at the end of the 14th over. Kitchen remained in the middle and was joined by Colin Munro and together the pair wrestled back control of the match.
The duo found the boundary regularly in a quick-fire partnership of 39 and surpassed the required total after 17.1 overs. Kitchen launched a six over wide long-on to end the chase and finish unbeaten on 33.
Ahmed was the leading wicket taker for Sialkot, taking two wickets in his four overs for 31.
Earlier the Aces had taken wickets at crucial moments throughout the Sialkot innings, not allowing them to form big partnerships.
Michael Bates took a wicket off his fourth delivery to dismiss the dangerous Shakeel Ansar in the second over. The pressure was maintained when Kyle Mills captured an extremely rare Twenty20 maiden in the following over.
Mills continued to frustrate the Pakistani side, who were struggling to get anything away. Three of the top four batsmen made starts, but were unable to push on to a much needed big score.
Andre Adams was effective with two wickets, while Hira also chipped in with a couple. At the end of the 15th over Sialkot were 97 for six.
Shahid Youself was the main contributor with 39 off 25 balls, while Ali Khan also had an impact when he smashed two big sixes in the 18th over.
However the real star of the innings was undoubtedly Mills. The fast bowler claimed the most economical figures in CLT20 history, with his four overs going for a remarkable six runs. It also included two wickets, just three runs off an over at the death and not a single boundary – not surprisingly earning him the Man of the Match award.
The win also gave the Aces a very favourable run-rate, which could be pivotal to their chances of qualifying.
That won’t matter however if they beat Hampshire early tomorrow morning. The two teams square-off at 12:20am, with the match being televised live on SKY.