The Firebirds are through but the Volts and ND are still hot on their tail feathers. PHOTOSPORT

Qualification in the bag for Firebirds



- 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.
Youth beats experience as Ben Sears collects his fledgling career best. PHOTOSPORT
Canterbury had needed 20 runs off the final two overs to stop the most consistent team of the national one-day competition, but lost their final two wickets to Jimmy Neesham (2-40) in the 49th over, conferring a victory to the Firebirds by 23 runs.

Firebirds captain Hamish Bennett extended his lead as top wicket-taker. PHOTOSPORT

The win swept the red hot Wellingtonians to 27 points on the table which guarantees their qualification with two rounds still remaining, while rookie opening batsman Andrew Fletcher became the first batsman in the competition to move past 500 runs for the season.

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.

ND brought the Volts' winning streak to a halt. MBUTCHER

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's 5th List A century was a winner. MBUTCHER

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.

Brownlie and Popli almost broke the ND partnership record. MBUTCHER

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.

Josh Clarkson raised his second ton at just 21. PHOTOSPORT

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.

Ben Horne celebrates his 50 Aces-styles. MBUTCHER

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.

The Stags fought back with bat and ball. MBUTCHER

But a middle order collapse found the Aces needing to steady themselves, take a deep breath and rebuild.

Graeme Beghin picked a great time for a maiden half ton. MBUTCHER

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.

Popli looked untroubled in his half century. MBUTCHER

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.

Competition Winner: Auckland Aces

Played Won Lost Tied No Result Abandoned Bonus Points Total Points Net Run Rate
1 Auckland Aces 10 6 4 0 0 0 4 28 0.46
2 Canterbury 10 5 4 0 1 0 3 25 0.08
3 Otago Volts 10 5 4 0 0 1 2 24 0.21
4 Northern Districts 10 5 4 0 0 1 2 24 0.00
5 Wellington Firebirds 10 5 5 0 0 0 1 21 0.01
6 Central Stags 10 2 7 0 1 0 0 10 -0.84

Order in the Table Determined by: 1. Total Points, 2. Number of Wins, 3. Number of Bonus Points, 4. Net Run Rate (NRR - NRR For minus NRR Against over the whole competition)

Points Awarded: Won - 4, Lost - 0, Tied - 2, No Result - 2, Abandoned - 2, Bonus Point (Run Rate 1.25x Opponents') - 1

Elimination Final - Otago Volts won by 6 runs

Most Runs

1Devon Conway553
2Colin Munro492
3John Boyle491
4Neil Broom471
5Chad Bowes428
6Henry Cooper417
7Dean Foxcroft406
8Robert O'Donnell401
9Nicholas Kelly374
10George Worker371

Most Wickets

1Benjamin Lister23
2Jacob Duffy21
3Andrew Ellis18
4=Michael Rippon16
4=Seth Rance16
6=Anurag Verma15
6=Nathan Smith15
8=Andrew Hazeldine14
8=Iain McPeake14
10Ollie Newton13

With Thanks To

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