Central Districts have booked their second straight Super Smash final appearance, and they did it without their major stars firing.
CD will play Northern Districts in the finale on Saturday, after beating Auckland by 36 runs in the elimination final this afternoon.
Impressively, they managed to defend a below-par 163-6 at the small confines of Eden Park Outer Oval, with a strong bowling performance suffocating the talented Auckland batting lineup.
Blair Tickner – the top wicket-taker in the competition – was the key man, taking 2-14 from his four overs and tying down Auckland's most dangerous weapons, while Ajaz Patel chipped in with a career-best 3-26 as the hosts were rolled for 127.
Their contributions were required more than usual today. Typically, Central Districts' strength is in their strong batting lineup, having scored 190 or more on six occasions this season and arguably possessing more power than any other side.
However, they were somewhat restricted at the Outer Oval, as for the third straight game, runs were curiously hard to come by at Auckland's home ground.
None of CD's top three could get going, with Auckland's mix of spin and slower variations from their seamers providing potent. It was left to Tom Bruce (28 from 13) and Dane Cleaver (54 from 33) to inject life into the innings, yet CD still needed to add 55 from the last six overs to reach a defendable total.
CD hadn't successfully defended a total that low since November 2014, fittingly also against Auckland, but in blustery winds and spitting rain, conditions weren't optimal for scoring.
Auckland's batting lineup was also less powerful than usual, with Glenn Phillips and Mark Chapman the two players who posed the biggest threats for CD.
So, when they went cheaply (and more importantly – slowly), CD were well on top, and nobody else could make them pay. Tickner removed Chapman for seven from eight balls, and then in his next over he struck again to send Phillips (16 from 17) back to the pavillion.
Craig Cachopa (38 from 27) hung around, but the wickets continued to flow as Auckland failed to put together a partnership of more than 18 runs. Eventually, Seth Rance claimed the last three wickets, wrapping up the tail to end with 3-22 as CD cruised to victory.
Now, they have a real chance to claim their first T20 title since 2010, and avenge last season's final defeat to Wellington, with ND awaiting at Seddon Park on Saturday afternoon.