Northern Knights 181-4 (Kane Williamson 79*, Scott Styris 29, Rob Nicol 0-26, Matt Henry 1-27) beat Canterbury Wizards 178-7 (Peter Fulton 88*, Ronnie Hira 43, Chris Tremain 3-19, Jono Boult 2-25) by three runs.
Kane Williamson produced his career-best HRV Twenty20 effort just when his team needed it most as the SKYCITY Northern Knights fought their way into the HRV Twenty20 Final with a tense, three-run victory over the Canterbury Wizards at Seddon Park.
Williamson’s stickability enabled the Knights to haul themselves out of a mid-innings doldrums, Canterbury’s spin Wizards and a charging Hamish Bennett holding them to a run rate of eights for much of the game.
The Knights had got a decent enough start. With a strong westerly buffeting the block, they had breathed a collective sigh of relief when captain Daniel Flynn won the toss - the wind forecast to die down in the second innings. Anton Devcich pounced on Hamish Bennett from the first over, cracking consecutive boundaries through point, and when an attacking Matt Henry had him edge one to first slip next over, Flynn quickly assumed the pummelling duties, using the wind to hit over the top for three sixes in four balls.
But again the Wizards hit back immediately, Andrew Ellis grabbing a wicket first ball when Flynn, into the wind this time, watched his intended six drop into the hands of George Worker well inside the rope. The double blow put the brakes on the aggressive start - but also signalled the entrance of Williamson, who worked watchfully with Brad Wilson against Ronnie Hira and Rob Nicol until a brilliant outfield throw from Brendon Diamanti broke their stand in the 10th over.
A missed stumping against Scott Styris (29 off 23) when the experienced big-hitter was on 11 might have been costlier on any other night, but, showing off paddle sweeps and audacious shots across the line, it was Williamson who took charge in the 73-run partnership with seven boundaries and a six in his unbeaten 79 of 55.
Still, having been thumped twice by the form horse Wizards in the round robin, there were hometown nerves as to whether 181-4 would quite do the trick. After opening with spin from both ends, Flynn tossed the ball to returning Australian pro Chris Tremain who promptly put himself on a hat-trick. Running a long way from the stumps, keeper BJ Watling had secured the catch to remove George Worker before Tremain sent Nicol’s middle stump flying, with more drama next ball as Peter Fulton survived a sharp run-out chance.
The Wizards’ captain would go on to be the rock of their innings, keeping them in with a chance to the last over and combining with assault weapon Hira (43 off 21), their 50-run partnership whipped up off 26 balls. The Knights’ four-prong spin attack had started well, but Hira destroyed Anton Devcich’s night by belting him for back-to-back sixes off his last over, which cost 18 runs just past the midway mark. The red and black foot went down: Styris was hit out of the attack with 15 off his sole over, then quick bowler Scott Kuggeleijn brutalised for 22.
It forced Flynn to turn back to his slow contingent, with Jono Boult again relishing the contest and making an immediate double strike, including the big wicket of fellow tweaker Hira: stumped. Young leg-spinner Ish Sodhi then produced a star turn by going for just one run in the 15th, Williamson falling in behind to have dangerous hitter Brendon Diamanti out for a duck next over.
In a gripping battle it was enough to squeeze some scoreboard pressure back onto the Wizards, who needed 51 off the last 32 balls. Fulton took charge, launching into two crunch sixes off Sodhi and another for good measure of Williamson as he helped snatch 31 big runs off just two overs. But the return of Tremain proved the real turning point as he restricted the Cantabrians to just singles in the penultimate over, before taking the wicket of Andrew Ellis with his last delivery.
That left one final big call for Knights’ captain Flynn - whether to risk bringing back Kuggeleijn for the last over, after the young flyer had been carved for that costly 22 off his first. The Wizards needed just 10 runs, Fulton (88* off 49) still at the wicket - but the Wizards could only manage a leg bye and a bye off the first three deliveries.
A Fulton heave for six off the second-to-last ball left him in need of a boundary, but when he couldn’t get the last ball through the field, the Knights collectively leapt in delight. It was the Wizards’ first and last HRV Twenty20 defeat this season in the sudden death match, while the comeback win from the team in pink put them into only their second HRV Twenty20 final in their history, against defending champions the Otago Volts - same place, same time tomorrow night.