Ford Trophy round 8: Mondiale Auckland Aces 160 in 43.5 overs (Munro 31, Carl Cachopa 51, Nethula 41 not out; Aldridge 8-3-18-4, Sodhi 2-14, Santner 2-25) lost to SKYCITY Northern Knights 161/8 in 43.3 overs (Brownlie 45; Quinn 9-3-19-3, Bates 2-28) by two wickets at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
The way things have been going, if the cricket gods decide that qualifiers the Mondiale Auckland Aces and SKYCITY Northern Knights should meet again in the Ford Trophy finals series, both sides will no doubt brace themselves for another nerve-jangling contest.
After the Aces beat the Knights on the last ball at home three days ago, the Knights turned the tables today with a tense two-wicket win at a humid, sun-baked Bay Oval — just not before making hard work of bettering the Aces’ modest 160, having given the Aces a sniff with a clump of late wickets.
Aces captain Michael Bates had opted to bat first on a slow deck, and while it did offer some turn, it proved a field day for 37-year-old pace veteran Graeme Aldridge, who afterwards self-assessed his merciless performance with the ball as one of the best in his 17-season List A career.
Aldridge attacked up front, jamming the ball in to try to extract some bounce — and was quickly rewarded with the wickets of both Aces openers, Brad Cachopa caught behind after four balls before Anaru Kitchen ladled up a simple caught and bowled.
Scott Kuggeleijn accounted for the big wicket of Craig Cachopa — one of four Auckland batsmen to duck out in the innings; but he was playing second fiddle to the on-fire senior pro at the other end, who sat on figures of 4-9 after adding Jeet Raval (caught behind in the 10th over) and Colin de Grandhomme (caught for a duck just two balls later). Aldridge eventually walked off the park with a superb 4-18 off eight.
Whilst the Knights’ attack was persistent, the Aces were also at times overly ambitious, not respecting the pace of the pitch. In deep strife at 65/7, Carl Cachopa and Tarun Nethula eventually showed the way with a sensible stand that produced 75 valuable runs, an Auckland record against the Knights for the eighth wicket — and the only half-century of their innings, to Cachopa, albeit after he had narrowly survived being run out on 47 after setting off on a suicide single.
But when he put up a sitter off a fired-up Ish Sodhi (who, with Mitchell Santner, built great pressure in the subcontinental-like conditions), Cachopa’s wicket was the beginning of the end as the last two men fell in quick succession, the visitors dismissed in 43.5 overs.
It meant the Aces faced the ignominy of going back out to field before lunch, but young quick Matthew Quinn was quickly once again a thorn in the Knights’ side as he picked up both Anton Devcich and Daniel Flynn (for a duck) in the space of three balls in the ninth over.
That made lunch taste better for the Aces, the Knights 38/2 after 10. The duck was soon back in action after the resumption, too, when Nethula trapped Daryl Mitchell, while Dean Brownlie narrowly avoided being dismissed on 24.
The Knights needed 100 runs off their last 30 overs with seven wickets still in hand, at this point: it should have been a doddle, and with Brownlie and BJ Watling at the crease, reprising their partnership from the previous game, they looked well in control.
A win was vital to secure the Knights entry to the Finals series, while the Aces were in regardless — only 1v2 hosting rights were riding on the game for them. It certainly added to the tension when the 52-run stand was broken, Brownlie caught behind just as he had been closing in on a hard-fought 50. When Watling joined him back in the pavilion soon after, the jitters were well and truly triggered, even with 17 overs left to get 50 runs.
Quinn (who turned in an impressive 3-19, with three maidens, off his nine) struck again to remove rearguard whizz Santner for just 15, and when part-timer Anaru Kitchen started taking scalps, the Knights’ camp really started sweating. The Knights needed just 20 runs, but the Aces now needed only three more wickets. Kuggeleijn caned a six and a four to ease the tension, but when Sodhi became the eighth man down, it amped up all over again.
The Knights were now 150/8 — the Aces had been 150/9 at exactly the same stage. They needed 11 of 49 balls. Aldridge, the bowling hero, was padded up. Surely he wouldn’t come in and hit the winning run, too?
No, it wasn’t quite that fairytale — but the Knights did make it home thanks to Kuggeleijn and Jono Boult. The Knights breathed a sign of relief as the team manager started booking tickets to get them to Queenstown, where they will meet the SBS Bank Otago Volts in the 3v4 Preliminary Final. And the Aces started to contemplate what they might do differently at Pukekura Park on Saturday, having surrendered 1v2 hosting rights to the Stags with a reasonably ugly loss.