The Auckland Aces have set a new benchmark by retaining the HRV Cup Twenty 20 title in emphatic fashion in the final against the Canterbury Wizards.
The top qualifiers and competition frontrunners since the early rounds, the Aces capped a wonderful campaign by winning the decider at Colin Maiden Park in Auckland today by 44 runs after their Martin Guptill-inspired 196 for five proved outside the reach of the Wizards.
Having last week chased down the Aces’ 202 to win their last round robin encounter, the Wizards today could do no better than 152 in 18.3 overs as the Aucklanders became the first team in the seven years of the domestic competition to successfully defend the title.
The Wizards were on the back foot early in their response after losing the key wicket of Rob Nicol, bowled for two by Michael Bates, and when bustling seamer Andre Adams induced a thin edge behind off George Worker they were 32 for two at the end of the fifth over.
Their problems quickly compounded as the Aces pounced to remove Dean Brownlie, Tom Latham and Yasir Arafat in quick order before Peter Fulton, Brendon Diamanti and Andrew Ellis fought hard.
Fulton struggled for his timing in making 33 off 30 balls, Diamanti stirred briefly with 22 off 15 and Ellis smacked five sixes in a 17-ball 41 when his side’s prospects were dim at best.
In the end, the Aces bowling attack strangled the batsmen, conceding no fours from the fourth and 13th overs as the Wizards were frustrated by the home side’s consistent accuracy.
Left-arm fast bowler Bates chipped out two late order wickets in the 18th over to finish with three for 18 off three overs, Adams took three for 32 off four and left-arm spinner Ronnie Hira ended with one for 25 off four.
The Aces’ score was built upon yet another solid foundation established by in-form openers Guptill and Azhar Mahmood.
Guptill took the back seat early as Pakistani Mahmood assumed the aggressor’s role and a crowd of 4100 had to wait until the fifth over for the first six when Guptill lofted young quick Matt Henry straight down the ground.
The 50 came up in the next over but they were parted at 71 when Mahmood, with seven fours off 32 balls, departed for 44 when caught in the deep off offspinner Nicol.
Nicol and seamer Ellis dragged the run rate back and only 32 runs came in the second five-over block, but the Wizards could not remove Guptill, who reached his 50 off 35 balls when he struck left-arm spinner Worker over cover for six.
He deposited the same bowler over mid wicket two balls later and reached 70 off 41 balls, with four sixes and as many fours, before top-edging an attempted sweep off Ellis to be caught by Brendon Diamanti.
Gareth Hopkins was struck in the helmet by fast bowler Mitchell Claydon in the 18th over but the Aces captain responded with three quickfire fours before he perished, caught at point off an Arafat slower ball after making 17 off nine.
Colin de Grandhomme then took the home side to the brink of 200 with 24 off 11 towards the finish.
Arafat ended with two for 35 for the Wizards, who were also well served by Nicol and Ellis, who both finished with one for 31 off four.