A chanceless, unbeaten 121 by opener Tim McIntosh carried Auckland to a seven-wicket victory over Otago at Colin Maiden Park yesterday and put them in a strong position to earn two lives in the semifinals of the national one-day competition.
With one round to go Auckland trail leaders Canterbury by three points and are two points ahead of Otago in third. The top two teams earn two lives in the semis.
Otago reached 273 for six in their 50 overs after a very slow start. Auckland scored 274 for the loss of only three wickets with nine balls to spare.
McIntosh anchored the Auckland chase in magisterial form, hitting nine fours and two sixes off 132 balls.
His fellow opener, Lou Vincent, had attack on his mind with two fours off his first four balls only to be bowled by Neil Wagner off the fifth. But McIntosh shared productive partnerships of 60 with Anaru Kitchen (31), 123 with Gareth Hopkins (57) and 83 with Greg Todd (47 not out).
Otago will rue the catches they dropped. Kitchen was dropped in the slips before he had scored and Hopkins was missed in a similar position when he was on one. There was little penetration from the Otago bowlers but offspinner Nathan McCullum, though wicketless, yielded only 39 runs from his 10 overs.
Otago's slow start at the crease proved costly. Daryl Tuffey, Chris Martin and Andre Adams bowled tightly and after 13 overs, including four maidens, the visitors were 34 for three.
The revival came from the experienced Neil Broom and Englishman Darren Stevens, who added 158 in good time before Stevens was brilliantly caught by Vincent at wide mid-on for 80 off 85 balls.
There was some spirited hitting from McCullum (23) and Broom was undefeated at the end with 116 off 129 balls with six fours and two sixes. Adams had three wickets and Tuffey finished with two for 41 after knocking the top off the innings.
Auckland's last game is against Wellington at the Basin Reserve on Wednesday.
In New Plymouth, Rob Nicol played a starring role as Canterbury consolidated their position at the top of the championship after beating Central Districts by 56 runs.
With one round to go before the playoffs, Canterbury have 21 points and look likely to host the preliminary final between the top two teams on Sunday.
Nicol, 28, notched the third one-day century of his career with yesterday's 105 and then took four Central Districts wickets with his off-spin.
He reached his 50 with just 47 balls and reached his century after facing another 68 deliveries, hitting 11 boundaries and a six along the way.
The biggest partnership of the innings came when Dean Brownlie joined Nicol at the crease and the pair posted 101 runs for the third wicket.
Nicol was next to go seven runs later but test wicketkeeper Reece Young hit a breezy 44 off 33 balls and a major contribution of 25 off just 10 balls by Carl Frauenstein helped Canterbury to a daunting 295 for seven.
Central Districts, who now find themselves bottom of the table, started well in their reply.
But once George Worker, 54, was winkled out by Nicol, their innings fell apart though Mathew Sinclair produced a fighting 57 in a bid to hold the innings together.
Nicol struck three more times to return figures of four for 51 while Andy Ellis chimed in with three for 30.
Kieran Noema produced a bold 40 off 34 balls as he put on 56 runs with Sinclair for the sixth wicket but Ellis and Nicol quickly wrapped up the tail.
At the Basin Reserve, Cameron Merchant struck a fine 94 as Wellington beat Northern Districts by 52 runs.
Merchant had international-calibre support from Grant Elliott, who hit 80, and James Franklin's 52.
ND's chase failed in the 46th over, when they were bowled out for 242.
* Canterbury won the domestic women's championship beating Wellington by 27 runs at Christchurch.
Canterbury made 188 for nine batting first with Janet Brehaut producing a steadying 53 after her side found themselves at 64 for the loss of four wickets.
Brehaut and Hayley Jensen, 33, put on 70 runs for the fifth wicket for the biggest partnership of the innings.
The Wellington bowlers, led by Sophie Devine, three for 33, and Sian Ruck, two for 25, put the clamps on once Brehaut and Jensen departed.
Wellington were the architects of their own demise.
At 47 for three by the 18th over, Devine and Emily Perry staged a 57-run partnership for the fourth wicket until Devine departed for 32.
A spate of run outs then demolished Wellington's innings.
- Additional reporting NZPA