Auckland deny Central to lift domestic crown

The State Auckland Aces held their nerve to deny a tenacious State Central Stags and emerge victorious in the State Championship cricket final near Christchurch.

The Aces celebrated the end of New Zealand's cricket summer with a deserved five-wicket win on the fifth and final day.

Chasing 188, they were teetered at 41 for three and then 104 for five before an unbeaten stand of 84 between Gareth Hopkins and Colin de Grandhomme proved decisive.

The aggression of allrounder de Grandhomme was needed, adding spice to a snail's pace run chase that opened the door on an unlikely Central win.

An early de Grandhomme six over long on off pace man Mitchell McClenaghan appeared to suck the life out of Central in the field and he carried on to reach 54 off just 59 balls.

Veteran wicketkeeper Hopkins was more stoic at the other end, reaching 48 when he swung a four to long leg off Ewen Thompson to end the game at 3.30pm.

Coach Paul Strang admitted the nerves started to jangle as he watched his side gradually lose the dominant position established over the first two days.

"We got a long way ahead but CD really chipped away at us for four days and it really came down to us today, how much we wanted it," the former Zimbabwe international told NZPA.

"At one stage it started to get a bit dodgy but it was always about getting one good partnership."

Strang was relieved de Grandhomme was able to continue the free-flowing style that has been a trademark this summer.

"That's the way he bats. He doesn't look at scoreboards much, he just sees the ball and bats reactively.

"This has been a real breakthrough year for him and in some ways it's special that he was one of the guys there at the end."

Auckland have won four of the last eight State Championship titles although this is their first for four years.

Sitting mid-pack before Christmas, they went on to produce three outright wins out of four matches in the second half of their campaign.

"You develop an aura that you're always going to come out on top, and that happened with us," Strang said.

"There's a lot of self-belief and once you get a happy camp and allow players to express themselves, good things happen."

Their final round-robin match was drawn, against Central in Auckland last week, but they dominated it, ensuring they were top qualifiers and had momentum going into the final.

Needing only a draw to wear the crown, Auckland were in control from the moment they won the toss on Monday, dismissing their opponents for 180.

Central did well to battle back on days three and four, reaching 349 in their second dig.

A boilover loomed today as four of the top five Auckland batsmen failed to reach 20.

McClenaghan removed both openers, including captain Richard Jones, who compiled 38. Thompson, Brendon Diamanti and George Worker all claimed a scalp and generally bowled tightly.

Central, the early competition pacesetters, had the two most prolific runscorers in captain Mathew Sinclair (904 runs) and opener Peter Ingram (884).

However, the struggled to bowl teams out and that came back to haunt them today.

Two Aucklanders topped the wicket-taking charts -- legspinner Tarun Nethula (28) and former New Zealand seamer Daryl Tuffey (27) -- with Tuffey particularly influential in recent weeks.

Former legspinner Strang was promoted from a high performance role with Auckland in February when former coach Mark O'Donnell was seconded to be New Zealand's assistant coach during the tour by India.

O'Donnell's contract with Auckland has now ended, leaving the association with a difficult decision for next summer as Strang and his assistant Matt Horne have overseen the winning surge.

Strang had no idea what will unfold over winter.

"All I'll say is we've learned a lot and coming out on top, on a personal note for Matt and I, is fantastic," he said.

"You coach to watch players enjoy themselves, and that's what we've got."

NZPA

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