Two-time defending champions Auckland could yet make it a three-peat of titles after scraping through by the skin of their teeth to the HRV Cup semifinal.
Auckland needed to beat last-placed Central Districts at Eden Park yesterday to sneak through to Friday's playoff, and an unbeaten Lou Vincent half-century saw them do just that.
The Aces' victory eliminates Northern Districts and sets up a date with Wellington for a spot in Sunday's final.
Whichever team advances will have their work cut out for them in the deep south, with Otago heading into the showpiece on a run of nine straight wins.
Auckland, on the other hand, have only five victories to their name from the season, and their appearance in the playoffs seemed unlikely for much of the season.
It also seemed in doubt during Auckland's innings yesterday, despite needing just 136 from a rain-reduced 18 overs. Vincent seemed to have his side cruising toward a semifinal berth, but four quick wickets put the clamps on the Aces' scoring.
That was until Donovan Grobbelaar came to the crease. The hero from Auckland's season-saving defeat of Canterbury two days ago repeated the dose to win the match with an over to spare.
With 30 runs needed from the final three, the allrounder took 19 from Jacob Oram before hitting 11 from the penultimate over to win send his side through and finish the innings on 36 from 19.
Earlier, CD made a solid if unspectacular start in their attempts to play spoiler, quickly advancing the score to 30 before a double blow halted their momentum.
The Stags advanced to 65-2 after nine overs before the heavens opened for the first time, but the delay seemed to do Auckland a favour when Ben Smith was gunned down by a direct hit from Vincent on the second ball after the resumption.
The covers came back and the break seemed to again disrupt their concentration, with Mathew Sinclair bowled by Grobbelaar on the third ball back.
The Stags' hopes of managing a big target appeared to lay with the big-hitting duo of Kieran Noema-Barnett and Jacob Oram, but the key men were dismissed for single figures in consecutive Andre Adams overs to leave the visitors to stutter to 132-7.
Vincent then looked like doing it easy, taking four fours from the second over of the match before continuing his charge to have his side on 40-0 after four.
But Phil Mustard's wicket triggered a five-over spell that went for just just 23 runs at the cost for captain Gareth Hopkins and the retired Anaru Kitchen.
A double strike from spinner Martin Kain then removed Colin de Grandhomme and Brad Cachopa to leave the Aces' lower order with some work to do. Work Grobbelaar completed with aplomb.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris