The Auckland Aces got their Champions League campaign off to a winning start as they claimed a comfortable seven wicket win over the Kolkata Knight Riders at Newlands, South Africa.
Chasing 138 for victory, the Aces surpassed the total with 14 balls to spare. Man of the Match Azhar Mahmood was effective with both bat and ball, taking three cheap wickets before hitting the winning runs to finish the match 51 not out.
Lou Vincent got the pursuit off to a rapid start, hitting two sixes and three fours on his way to 30 from just 12 balls. The flurry of boundaries prompted the early inclusion of Sunil Narine, with the spinner having him caught at the end of the third over to have the Aces 37 for one.
The momentum stayed with the New Zealand side as Martin Guptill and Mahmood put on another 39 for the second wicket. Guptill fell for 25 in the 10th over when he tried to pull Lakshmipathy Balaji, only to mistime it and be caught at long-on.
Mahmood continued his string of recent strong performances and alongside Anaru Kitchen put the Aces in a winning position. Kitchen’s short stint of 24 off 15 propelled his side to 117 for three, leaving them to require just 21 from 32 deliveries.
When Kitchen was dismissed LBW, Colin de Grandhomme came in and sensibly worked nine off 11 balls, while Mahmood at the other end continued to play his shots.
The conclusion of the match came after 17.4 overs when Mahmood found the boundary. His 51 came off 42 deliveries and included three fours and a six.
Narine was the most damaging of the Knight Rider’s bowlers with figures of two for 24 from his four overs.
Earlier, the Aces had recovered from an expensive start to limit the Knight Riders to 137 for six.
Captain Gautam Gambhir (5) was the first to depart for the IPL champions, falling to a brilliant diving catch from Guptill off the bowling of Michael Bates.
The following partnership between Manvinder Bisla and Brendon McCullum though was a significant one, with the two batsmen putting on 62 for the second wicket.
With the Knight Riders 72 for one in the ninth over, Ronnie Hira made the breakthrough for the Aces when he had Bisla caught on 38. His wicket was capitalised on by Mahmood in the next over, taking consecutive wickets including the prize scalp of Jacques Kallis (0).
McCullum remained for the Knight Riders, but having hit Andre Adams for six in the previous over, was caught for 40 when Mahmood found the edge.
It was another big play from the Pakistani all-rounder, who took three top-order wickets in his four overs for 16 runs.
Despite a few late boundaries from Yusuf Pathan (22), the Knight Riders run-rate didn’t recover as the Ace’s bowlers finished strongly.
All of the Auckland bowlers impressed with Kyle Mills particularly economical taking one for 23 from four overs.
The Aces face South African side the Nashua Titans next, early on Thursday morning.