HRV Cup: Knights come up short

By Kelly Exelby

Gareth Hopkins was hoping his former Black Caps teammate Scott Styris would take the guesswork out by winning the toss and dictating terms in yesterday's HRV Cup Twenty20 domestic match at Mt Maunganui.

Three hours later and it would not have mattered what Styris had done as the Auckland Aces re-inked their title credentials with a comprehensive dismantling of the Northern Knights at the Bay Oval.

Auckland won with six wickets and 20 balls to spare, chasing down the Knights' inept 111 all out with ease in a game that went the distance with minimal rain interruption, despite light drizzle and low cloud all day.

The loss bumps the Knights back down to the foot of the competition, almost certainly ended their slim hopes of making the January 22 final with three round-robin games still to play, while the Aces jumped back to the outright lead after Canterbury had momentarily joined them after their win over the Central Stags.

Hopkins arrived at the ground yesterday morning unsure whether to bat or bowl, with forecast rain making batting second the sensible pick but with the pitch potentially offering a bit to the spinners late.

"I was honestly in two minds and was hoping I got the call wrong to give Scotty the choice. Being the fourth game on the same wicket in a week it was in the back of my mind that it may have broken up and become harder to play on, although being under covers for a few days I thought we may also have got a bit of seam early.

"In the end neither eventuated - there was no real seam and it was great to bat on."

Auckland are in such great nick they rarely require assistance from outside forces anyhow and the question became how quickly they would wrap things up after winning performances with the ball from left-arm spinners Ronnie Hira and Bruce Martin, as well as veteran seamer Andre Adams, saw the Knights back in the hutch for 111 in 19.2 overs.

Black Caps opener Martin Guptill dined out in the chase, scoring an unbeaten 49 off a positively sedate 48 balls, pacing his innings nicely with six boundaries - just one over the ropes.

The Aces did have a scare in the third over when steady drizzle drove both teams from the park but that was the only threat as the Knights' bowlers laboured under too-few runs to defend.

Adams was in everything early in the Knights' innings, taking 3-27 from four overs and bagging catches to get rid of Daniel Vettori and Hamish Marshall.

The Knights limped through to 50-4 and never gained any momentum apart from a breezy 30 down the order by Corey Anderson before he was stumped by Hopkins.

Martin took 3-15 off his four against his old team while Hira, who has been a revelation in T20, conceded a scrooge-like 12 runs from his four overs and gobbled an easy return catch to send Styris packing.

Styris wasn't talking after the game, leaving Hopkins to heap praise on his key contributors - with Guptill, Martin and Hira's efforts particularly high on the list.

Guptill was coming off an unbeaten century and a half-century in his last two visits to the middle and was playing smart, summing up game situations expertly, but Hopkins said the two left-arm tweakers were also in matchwinning form.

"They've been the real revelation in terms of how quickly they're able to sum up the pace they need to bowl for each type wicket. They've been crucial for us and have probably put us in the box seat in both our last two games."

Canterbury Wizards also stayed on a winning roll, with half-centuries to opener Rob Nicol and Twenty20 debutant Tom Latham, plus an unbeaten 30 from veteran Brendon Diamanti as they scored their fourth victory in seven outings. They beat the Central Stags by four wickets with nine balls to spare at Rangiora chasing the Stags' 188 for four.

The match between Wellington and Otago was abandoned without a ball being bowled.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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