SKYCITY Northern Knights 140-10 in 19.3 overs lost to Mondiale Auckland Aces 146-4 in 17.3 overs by six wickets at Seddon Park, Hamilton.
The first hat-trick in the history of New Zealand Twenty20 domestic cricket was just the icing on the cake for the jubilant Mondiale Auckland Aces after they wrested the 2014 Preliminary Final from the SKYCITY Northern Knights to book themselves into today’s Grand Final.
In a game of shifting momentum, the third qualifiers overcame a bustling beginning from the defending champions, who had elected to bat on a perfect Hamilton evening. Three Daniel Flynn boundaries saw 13 taken from Rob Nicol’s initial over, then first drop Kevin O’Brien relegated Flynn to anchor by pummelling another 16 off the fifth — followed by a six-hitting spree that peeled 18 off a single Donovan Grobbelaar over and took the Irishman to a blistering first half-century in pink, at a strike rate of 200.
It looked for all the world like the Knights were making up for Friday’s shock disintegration — until cool-headed spinner Tarun Nethula returned with Nicol and de Grandhomme to slam the gate shut through the middle. A quicker, fuller flick had mainstay Flynn fooled, then the very next over Nethula snaffled a catch off Nicol as Travis Birt departed cheaply for the second night in a row.
But the one they desperately needed was princely O’Brien, who looked to be on course to smash something special after a commanding, 23-ball half-century. His wicket shortly afterwards, in the 13th over, proved a colossal turning point. Impressively, in the face of such an onslaught, Nethula wound it up having conceded just one boundary from his four overs — and that had been the result of a near-collision and misfield in the deep.
Nicol and Matt Quinn kept things tight; Daryl Mitchell meanwhile was dropped behind the stumps off Colin de Grandhomme on four. Critically, however, Mitchell and Scott Kuggeleijn could find only singles for the next two overs as death duo Grobbelaar and Bates made sure the Aces were right back in the game, with Bates zeroing in on Mitchell’s leg bail to have the Knights 135-6 after 18.
The Knights would find just five more runs, Jono Hickey top-edging Grobbelaar in the 19th before the first three balls of the final over went down in cricket history. Kuggeleijn was Bates’ first victim, edging and skying a regulation catch to Grobbelaar after Bates held the pace back. He then surprised Jono Boult, who sent up an ungainly lobb to Craig Cachopa.
Taking a wide stance, Ish Sodhi became a reluctant part of the annals as Bates fired at leg stump, Sodhi squeezing his bat at it only to send an edge flying behind. Keeper Brad Cachopa grabbed it one-handed with a gravity-defying leap to his right as his Aces teammates all lept in unison. Bates had wrapped up a career-best 4-10 off 2.3 with his unique feat, moreover, they had knocked over the Knights for 140 to give themselves a serious sniff of joining the Firebirds in the Grand Final.
Again, the Knights kicked off right on target, Scott Kuggeleijn’s fierce first over ending with the wicket of Luke Wright, who nicked it behind for no score. Spinner Mitchell Santner backed up tidily from the other end, but when Craig Cachopa boomed a six high into the temporary stand at the end of the fifth over — from which he and Nicol had flogged Anurag Verma for 16 runs, the Knights knew they were in for a tough battle.
Their three-prong spin attack demanded respect, Boult getting Nicol stumped on the leg side with a sharp, late dipper. Cachopa and Munro were good enough, however, to stay abreast of the required run rate — in the sevens — until Munro let loose against Boult in the 12th over, blasting a four and two sixes to give the Aces a firm grip at 92-2.
Cachopa’s 35-ball 50 was saluted in the following over as the repeat title dream began fading rapidly for the home side. Even the fall of Munro, and a brilliant set of wrong’uns from Sodhi — one of which took out de Grandhomme, could not stop the Aces’ charge for the finish line. Cachopa ended unbeaten for a fine 79, game over for the Knights in 17.3 overs.
The 2014 Georgie Pie Super Smash Grand Final between the Mighty Ape Wellington Firebirds and Mondiale Auckland Aces takes place at 4pm at Seddon Park this afternoon.