The two teams that will contest this season's Hallyburton Johnstone Shield Grand Final have been found. Now the only question to be answered — tomorrow (Sunday) — is where next week's national one-day Final will be played.
A dominant, nine-wicket win over the Otago Sparks in Palmerston North gave the Central Hinds a bonus point victory this afternoon, which — when the Hearts subsequently eliminated Wellington Blaze from the reckoning with a last-over 13-run victory in Auckland, later in the afternoon — was enough for the Hinds to lock in the last qualifying berth, with tomorrow's round to spare.
Had the Blaze got up over the Hearts, the two finalists would be heading into tomorrow's Round 10 with just one point separating them in the race to qualify top and host the Grand Final. However, the Hearts' victory at Colin Maiden Park, with five balls to spare, means they will take a five-point lead into tomorrow's last round of the regular season.
That means that if the Hinds are to get up and host the Final, they will now need another bonus-point win over the Sparks; a loss for the Hearts against the Blaze tomorrow; and, an improvement in their own net run rate in the process — making the Hearts odds-on favourites for the Grand FInal hosting rights.
At Fitzherbert Park, the Hinds were already celebrating in the pavilion after having bundled out a weakened Sparks team for just 116 runs. Despite the early loss of vice-captain Jess Watkin in reply, the Hinds had ticked off almost half the required runs before the lunch break, prolific opener Nat Dodd (44*) and captain Anlo van Deventer (51*) finishing off the job for no further loss after the break. Dodd's innings also moved her into top slot in this season's run aggregates with 462 runs from nine matches in her first summer with the Central team.