Canterbury Wizards have ridden the coat tails of the prolific Rob Nicol all the way to the final of the Men's One-Day cricket competition.
Nicol filled his boots again today as the top qualifiers earned direct entry to the final on February 13 by winning their preliminary final over Auckland by 41 runs at QEII Park in Christchurch.
The 27-year-old right-handed opener crafted a quality 87 off 119 balls with 13 boundaries to help steer his side to a challenging 268 for eight before Auckland came up well short as they were dismissed for 227 in the 44th over.
The Auckland Aces still have a chance to book a rematch with Canterbury because they next contest the semifinal against Otago on Wednesday.
Otago remained alive by winning today's second preliminary final at Queenstown over Northern Districts by five wickets after a contest of wildly fluctuating fortunes featuring rain and a head-turning, matchwinning partnership.
Back in Christchurch it was Nicol who again demanded attention as he lifted his season's aggregate to 529 runs at an average of 66, his fifth half-century of the competition neatly complementing his lone century.
He took particular delight in putting his former teammates to the sword, having left Auckland for the southern post in the hope of improving his game.
Nicol has most certainly done that and today's effort came against a formidable seam bowling attack featuring present or past internationals in Chris Martin, Daryl Tuffey and Andre Adams.
Martin and Adams were the pick of the attack, ending with figures of three for 48 and two for 40, respectively, although for a time they were made to sweat by Nicol and Dean Brownlie, who shared a third wicket stand of 140 in 27 overs as Canterbury progressed to a threatening 192 for two after 40 overs.
It was then that Nicol was finally prised out and Brownlie, who had cleverly rotated the strike to benefit his in-form partner, followed soon afterwards for a heady 72 off only 88 balls, an innings containing only four fours and one six.
Despite losing gangly left-handed opener Tim McIntosh early, Auckland's pursuit began more than promisingly as Lou Vincent and Jeet Raval scored at better than run-a-ball place to hurry the visitors to 119 for one in only the 18th over.
But once Vincent was caught and bowled by Ellis for a 55-ball 62 Auckland's challenge quickly dissolved as Raval also beat a hasty retreat after being dismissed for 52 off 50 balls.
Auckland offered little resistance after that as seamer Mitchell Claydon snapped up four for 44 and Ellis completed a fine double by taking three for 38.