A 23-minute tornado in the form of Luke Wright shattered purple hearts on a brilliantly sunny Hawke’s Bay afternoon as the Mondiale Auckland Aces smashed the Canterbury Kings’ title hopes.
Opening a chase of 154, the English pro fearlessly tore into his work by blasting three sixes off shellshocked Cole McConchie in the opening over. Even when Todd Astle had him caught at the end of the fifth for a 19-ball haul of 38, Anaru Kitchen immediately blitzed another six.
The writing was already on the wall for the Kings that the game was going to get away on them unless they rapidly created some magic. Instead, they gave Rob Nicol a series of let-offs as the Aces skipper pushed past Jamie How to become New Zealand’s top all-time domestic Twenty20 runmaker.
By the time Nicol’s luck ran out on 34, a ballistic Craig Cachopa had already got his eye in for an unbeaten 49 that polished things off with two overs and two balls to spare. Even with four overs to go the Aces were coasting, Cachopa completing the job with an emphatic six into the stand that temporarily catapulted the Aces to the top of the table —and, moreover, sealed their Finals berth.
For the Kings it had been a must-win rematch from Thursday, but they could only blame themselves after having won the toss. Despite threatening performances from Neil Broom and Henry Nicholls and two 68-run stands, they didn’t capitalise enough to make the Aces nervous in such fine conditions.
Donovan Grobbelaar had made the initial breakthrough, quickly removing Ronnie Hira thanks to a terrific outfield catch from Matt Quinn. Then Michael Bates picked up Aiden Blizzard with his first ball. Broom, meanwhile, had just as smartly started popping boundaries and sixes as he began marching towards his second half-century of the competition —off 40 balls. By the halfway mark he and Nicholls, who looked thoroughly at ease, had a breezy 50-run partnership, but perhaps the telling blow was a lightning piece of glovework from Aces keeper Brad Cachopa that had Broom stumped in the 13th over.
Nicholls was caught off the last ball of the innings for his 45-ball 61, with skipper Peter Fulton unbeaten after having been troubled my a leg problem mid-innings. The headline writer’s dream of a purple reign was not to be.