Central Districts are one game away from raising the Ford Trophy title, and it is going to take a spectacular effort to stop them.
A seven wicket victory over Auckland has booked them a berth in the one-day finale, with their cluster of fringe Black Caps coming to the fore.
In some ways, CD's victory in the major semifinal shows the inverted incentive system of domestic cricket. This month, Tom Bruce and Seth Rance were dropped from the Black Caps – technically a blow for the province's overall purpose, but extremely beneficial for their domestic one-day side.
On the contrary, strong domestic displays saw Mark Chapman plucked from the Auckland side into the national team, leaving them with an inexperienced look, while CD could call upon an array of recent international players.
Bruce and Rance joined Doug Bracewell, George Worker and Adam Milne – not to mention three other long-time classy domestic contributors – to create a squad which is far and away the best squad remaining.
They showed that in the major semifinal, reducing Auckland to 114-7 after strong bowling displays from Milne (2-37) and Bracewell (3-60).
Ben Horne (63) and Tarun Nethula (51) gave Auckland a sniff by adding 105 for eighth wicket, but both were run out in sloppy fashion, as they could only card 240 – well below par at Pukekura Park.
After a rain delay, that total was reduced to 190 from 32 overs – a slightly harsh Duckworth-Lewis calculation that was nonetheless no problem for Central Districts' bevy of hitters.
Worker and Ben Smith both scored 46 opening the innings, before Jesse Ryder whacked 53 from 34 balls as they chased down the total with six overs to spare.
Auckland will now play Canterbury for the right to meet CD in the final, after Canterbury thrashed Northern Districts by 168 runs.
Canterbury were led to victory by Henry Nicholls, who recovered from a slow start - 1 from 19 balls - to anchor the innings with a sturdy 122.
He received support from Andy Ellis (50 from 41 balls) and Tom Latham (34) as Canterbury made the most of their experienced campaigners to rack up 287 at Whangarei's Cobham Oval.
ND had form this season in chasing down challenging totals, but when Matt Henry and Ed Nuttall claimed three wickets in the first seven overs, their hopes were dashed.
From 18-3, they then collapsed further to 42-6, with only five players reaching doubles figures. Joe Walker top scored at number nine with 31 as their slow march to elimination eventually saw them bowled out in the 32nd over for 119.
Canterbury will visit Auckland on Wednesday in the elimination final, with the winner taking on CD on Saturday in the decider.
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