Often the unsung workhorses of Twenty20 cricket, wicketkeepers played a big hand as the Auckland Aces ruthlessly tore down leaders the Otago Volts to create a throng of teams on equal points at the head of the HRV table.
Having sprung a surprise on the Volts by elevating himself to three, Gareth Hopkins was part of a solid start from the Aces’ top order as he punched out a busy 24 off 14 balls - the Aces having been sent in by his opposing keeper-captain Derek de Boorder on a typical Eden Park belter.
However, de Boorder had also been busy early in the game - reaching at full stretch to dismiss Anaru Kitchen off Jacob Duffy in the first of two impressive, one-handed catches behind the stumps. His repeat effort removed Kitchen’s opening partner Chris Nash off McMillan soon after, then the gloveman put the icing on his cake with a leg-side stumping off spinner Nick Beard to dislodge Craig Cachopa cheaply.
Hopkins, meanwhile, had been caught miscuing an exacting Ryan ten Doeschate (2-20 off four), while Colin de Grandhomme casually flicked a catch to Michael Bracewell at midwicket: a flurry of wickets that put the brakes on the Auckland charge.
After an uneasy beginning, Jeet Raval, down at five, clung on to top-score with an unbeaten 50 off 40 balls as the Aces finally recovered at the death. The first six of the match had been clobbered only in the 18th over when Jono Sole climbed into Beard, emulated two balls later by Raval as they raced home to 167-6, having put on 39 in just three overs.
While the total was short of their expectations, a brilliant start by the Aces’ attack saw them quickly seize back the ascendancy and pour pressure back onto the visitors. Matt Quinn removed both Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom in a dramatic first over; Michael Bates followed up with a wicket maiden in which his late swing deceived a scoreless ten Doeschate; then Quinn delivered a further maiden to have the Volts limping at 2-3 after three overs.
Keeper Hopkins had, of course, been in the action, showing seasoned composure as he manoeuvred himself backwards to gobble the skied top-edge put up by Broom, and he was pivotal again in the dismissal of Michael Bracewell, who had just helped peel a much-needed 16 runs off Quinn’s third over when he feathered a bottom-edge to Hopkins rolling low to right.
From there the innings rapidly spiralled into disaster for the Volts, bowled out for just 93 in 16.1 overs with the only resistance coming from Aaron Redmond (41 off 32) and de Boorder (29 off 24). James Fuller bagged the lion’s share of the wickets with 3-20, Bates was outstanding with his two overs going for just three runs in addition to the big wicket of ten Doeschate while Quinn, de Grandhomme and Chris Nash all picked up two apiece in a 74-run victory.
The Aces now head to Christchurch to face the Canterbury Wizards on 5 January while the Volts will fancy their chances against the winless Devon Hotel Central Stags on the same day in New Plymouth.