- Firebirds become first to secure top three spot -
Ford Trophy frontrunners the Wellington Firebirds have become the first team to lock in a top three qualifying spot after a tight win over Canterbury at Hagley Oval this evening.
Whether the Firebirds will proceed direct to The Ford Trophy Grand Final is yet to be determined, however, both the Otago Volts (22 points) and Northern Districts (18 points) remaining capable of overtaking them. There is still a total of 10 points (including bonus points) up for grabs in the last two rounds before playoffs.
Northern Districts captain Dean Brownlie meanwhile looked in total command at Lincoln No.3 as he cruised to his fifth List A century (110 off 115 balls) to help chase down the Otago Volts' tally of 291 for six.
Brownlie and opening partner Bharat Popli (67) looked untroubled as they poured on 162 for the first wicket in chilly, overcast conditions, Popli finally departing just 19 runs short of the Northern Districts List A opening stand record against all teams, coincidentally also against the Volts.
Nick Kelly then breezed to a half century at better than run a ball pace, ND wrapping up a seven-wicket victory with a couple of overs to spare.
Across the hedge on Bert Sutcliffe Oval, the Auckland Aces also closed out a much needed win against the Central Stags, but not without a few nervous moments in a see-sawing match between last year's two Grand Finalists.
Earlier in the day, defending champions the Aces had had Tom Bruce's new-look Stags by the throat at 114 for six, but Nelson 21-year-old Josh Clarkson's second List A century — a career-best 111 off 107, adding to his maiden effort against the same team last season — pushed the Stags' total out to 226.
There was a good start from the Aces' opening pair of Sean Solia and Ben Horne, whose 61 accompanied five catches behind the stumps, just one short of the Aces List A record.
But a middle order collapse found the Aces needing to steady themselves, take a deep breath and rebuild.
An unbeaten maiden half century from number six Graeme Beghin (56* off 53 balls) eventually got his team home with five overs to spare, while the youthful Stags unit again went home empty-handed at Lincoln and languish in fifth place on 11 points, ahead of only Canterbury.
The Aces now sit just two points behind third-placed ND, well within striking distance.
Sunday's penultimate round will see the Aces in for a fascinating battle with ND on Lincoln No.3 while the Volts will be driving from Lincoln into Christchurch looking to beat Canterbury at Hagley Oval to firm up their own qualifier's spot.
The Stags will meanwhile remain at Bert Sutcliffe Oval to face a no doubt challenging rematch with the Firebirds.
Sunday's three men's matches form just one chunk of a busy weekend of national one-day cricket action with the women's Hallyburton Johnstone Shield commencing this Saturday in Christchurch, Wellington and New Plymouth.
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