Canterbury dent Knights' playoff chances
The Twenty20 version of the game keeps proving a headache for the Northern Knights.
With the chance to cement their place in the HRV Cup playoffs with a game to spare, the Knights went down to the Canterbury Wizards by eight runs at Seddon Park in Hamilton.
Still searching for their maiden HRV Cup title, Northern Districts meet the Wellington Firebirds in the capital on Sunday with their place in the 2 v 3 playoff still not assured.
The Otago Volts are all but certain of top spot and home advantage for the final next Sunday afternoon after beating Wellington by 12 runs at the Basin Reserve.
They are on 28 points with two matches still to play, while the Knights and Wellington are on 20.
The Wizards and Auckland Aces - both on 12 points with two games left - are still in contention.
The Knights were undone by a superb knock from young Wizards captain Tom Latham, and some poor batting against the face of left-arm spinner Ronnie Hira.
After winning the toss the Wizards made 184-8, thanks to Latham's 52 off just 29 balls, before Hira proved tough to get away and destroyed the ND lineup with 3-16 off his four overs.
The 20-year-old, who has already played 11 times for the Black Caps, came in at No 5 halfway through the innings and his stay comprised three fours and three sixes - with the maximums all hit over midwicket off consecutive Anurag Verma deliveries, with the last of them going out of the park.
That over from Verma, his second, and the 16th of the innings, went for 26 and changed the complexion of the game.
Earlier ND had dangerman Rob Nicol out early, falling to a fine diving catch by Bradley Scott off a Brent Arnel cutter.
Arnel struck in his next over to get rid of George Worker - who looked in great touch in hitting 27 off 18 - as he tried to whip it cross-bat to the leg side, getting a top edge and looping up to Brad Wilson.
ND's decision to whisk Daryl Tuffey in after playing club cricket in Sydney didn't pay too many dividends, apart from the wicket of Brendon Diamanti who was caught at long off.
Tuffey's first over was poor - too short and too wide - and he also dished up three wides in his three overs, which went for 32.
The 34-year-old's inclusion was chiefly for his death bowling ability, yet he wasn't required to close out the innings.
Off-spinner Jono Boult performed well, going for just 25 runs from his four overs and picking up the wicket of Andrew Ellis.
After missing a stumping of Brad Cachopa in Boult's first over, wicketkeeper James Foster was soon after involved in his downfall when Wilson produced a tidy gather and sharp throw to the gloveman to complete the runout.
The penultimate over of the innings had Arnel claim two more wickets to seal career-best figures of 4-22 off his four.
In a steep run chase the Knights needed a couple of players to fire, but no-one ever got going.
After losing Anton Devcich early to a top-edged pull shot, the hosts pushed on through Steven Croft, who stroked three successive fours through the off-side off Diamanti's first three balls.
He got to 22 off 12 but fell to Hira's first ball - a quicker straight one.
Hira then struck with the first ball of his second over when Wilson got in an awful tangle after going down the wicket and being yorked.
When James Marshall was bowled by a good one from Logan van Beek in the next over the Knights were in trouble at 77-4 in the 11th over.
Bradley Scott was promoted to try and up the ante but fell for 19 off 13, and Foster (25 off 17) fell soon after, which effectively ended the battle.
Verma tried valiantly to smash the 26 required off the final over, bowled by van Beek, Verma French cut a four, then tried to scoop the next ball but didn't make contact, before lofting a six over long on and edging another four.
That left 12 off two but a shot over cover was fielded and van Beek held his nerve.