Aces take playoff berth despite close loss

It was a matter of close, but not quite for the Auckland Aces in today’s game against Otago at Queens Park in Invercargill.

The Volts won the toss and opted to bat. Mitch Renwick was dismissed early by Ben Lister, and inside the first 10 overs the Aces had another wicket after Matt McEwan came on for Michael Snedden and dismissed Brad Wilson.

Both McEwan and Roneel Hira bowled well for the Aces – building pressure up through 15 overs. When Nathan Smith and Neil Broom Were both set and looking to cut loose, Hira nabbed both their wickets in two overs. Smith first on 47, then Broom on 50.

Otago then began to build again. Shawn Hicks and Anaru Kitchen put together 78 runs before Hira bowled Kitchen as he tried to play a scoop shot.

Auckland looked to have Otago on the ropes at 211/7 when Hicks was dismissed in the 42nd over by McEwan, with a sharp catch at mid-on by Craig Cachopa.

Then Josh Finnie and Christi Viljoen came together and started hitting Auckland’s bowlers to all parts. With Hira and McEwan each finished their 10 overs, Snedden and Lister both found themselves getting some tap during the final spell.

Otago put on 70 runs in seven overs to finish at 283/7, and the game very much in the balance.

During the lunch break, news came though that the match in Whangarei had been abandoned. This left a strange, yet tantalising equation. If Otago won, they would qualify top and go straight into the grand final. Should the Aces make the runs in fewer than 40 overs, they would take second place. If Auckland won without a bonus point, Wellington would stay in top spot, Otago second, and Auckland third.

What made all of this more complicated is that the Basin Reserve is unavailable for either final. If the Aces lost they would host the elimination final. If they won, it would be held in Dunedin.

As they came out to bat, there was no indication that Auckland had any intention of doing anything but winning. They looked to hit immediately, which was Colin Munro’s undoing when he played on to Jacob Duffy.

Sean Solia joined Ben Horne and they continued to score at a brisk pace, which only faltered a little when Solia was caught for 27.

Cachopa and Horne put together a partnership that would have made the Volts nervous, Horne going past 50 with a four.

Disaster came when Horne was run out on 63 at the non-striker’s end by a direct hit from Neil Broom.

Otago put the screws on, Michael Rippon and Kitchen bowling tight overs to put pressure on Cachopa and Robbie O’Donnell.

After eight overs for just 26 runs, Cachopa succumbed. Trying to hit Warren Barnes, he was caught by Rippon.

O’Donnell also succumbed the next over, bowled by Kitchen.

Michael Barry and McEwan then had to pick up the innings, keep their wickets and wait until they could go for gold in the last ten overs.

Barry kept his strike rate at over 100, and McEwan fairly close to it. Then McEwan was dismissed in the 44th over for 32, caught on the boundary.

Beghin came in down the order, after a minor injury meant he couldn’t take his usual spot. Together with Barry the Aces pushed the scoring rate until they needed 16 runs off the final over.

Duffy bowled a tight over,although Beghin hit the final two balls for four, the Aces found themselves an agonising three runs short.

The result means Otago finish on 30 points, Wellington on 29, and Auckland third on 21.

The Aces will host the Firebirds in the elimination final on Wednesday at the Eden Park Outer oval. The winner will then head down to Dunedin to face the Volts next Saturday.

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