Watching Kane Williamson and Tim Southee bat is as different as a balletic performance of The Nutcracker from Iron Maiden at the Hammersmith Odeon, but each in their own fashion played a vital hand as the SKYCITY Northern Knights became the only unbeaten side in the Ford Trophy.
The Auckland Aces had set the home side a target of 291 at Seddon Park and, at various times in a seesawing encounter, looked to be well on top. Indeed, after the winning the toss earlier in the day they had quickly taken control, a lingering opening stand of 136 between Tim McIntosh and Anaru Kitchen frustrating the Knights and setting a new first wicket record for the Aces against their rivals in the process.
The crisp Kitchen was on 95 when Anton Devcich finally broke the partnership: McIntosh the victim, caught by Brad Wilson for 44 - and he was followed swiftly by Gareth Hopkins. The flurry seemed to momentarily spook Kitchen, who played and missed against Trent Boult before reverting to a crunching drive to the boundary for his second Ford Trophy century. Minutes later, however, the ball ballooned off his leading edge to end his fun on 104 and hand Devcich his second wicket.
After the long wait, now wickets continued tumbling for the Knights until, at 205/5, Colin de Grandhomme stepped in to belt 42 off just 25 balls. Supported by Kyle Mills, suddenly the Aces again looked good for a 300-plus score - but Williamson struck a significant blow when his direct hit ran out de Grandhomme in the 47th over; allowing Southee and Boult to knock off the tail, denying the Aces both the 300 and their full 50 overs.
The Aces had failed to fully capitalise on their textbook start, yet if they felt their total a tad short, the pendulum soon swung back their way with four prime Knights wickets snaffled inside 19 overs. Form batsman Daryl Mitchell was disconsolate after spooning an easy catch off Donovan Grobbelaar while James Marshall, likewise coming off a score in the 90s, was stunned as Kitchen stuck out a paw to stop a cracking cut off Matt Quinn.
At 84/4 the heat was on and the chat in the middle getting cheekier, but Williamson and Wilson proved an unflappable duo as they set about the rebuild and added 96 runs for the 5th wicket. Williamson delighted with his collection of virtuoso cuts and drives before he became the third Knight to fall in the 90s in as many days, the Aces whooping with delight when part-timer de Grandhomme wrapped his fingers around a gift of a return catch in the 33rd over.
Another cluster of wickets saw 180/5 become 201/7, the required run rate climbing over run-a-ball: surely the Aces had it now, if they could get rid of Southee just as quickly. The late-order thrasher had other ideas, however, in a summer that has already seen the resurgence of his fearless batting. Fourteen runs in three balls saw him slam to a maiden Ford Trophy 50 off just 30 balls, Graeme Aldridge holding his own at the other end, the pendulum careening back towards the Knights with the equation now down to 27 runs off five overs.
When Aldridge then spaded 10 from the first two balls of Michael Bates' over - his off-drive retrieved from the depths of the embankment, the Aces melted under the pressure of an eighth-wicket stand that had cracked the Northern Districts allcomers record set by Cliff Dickeson and Murray Child in 1980/81. Southee finished unbeaten on 66 off 45, Aldridge on a run-a-ball 26 to ensure a three-wicket win with nine balls to spare, the chart-topping Knights the only unbeaten side after two rounds.