A blistering return to form by Scott Styris spearheaded the Northern Knights to a crucial Twenty20 win against the Auckland Aces tonight.
Styris had struggled for runs during his side's HRV Twenty20 campaign this summer but his rapid 48 at Eden Park's Outer Oval propelled the Knights to a 29-run win that kept them in title contention.
His knock revived memories of another punishing innings he played at the same venue for the Knights on Boxing Day last season, when in a rain-shortened T20 encounter he thumped 68 off 26 balls, including eight sixes.
Today, he backed up his batting with 2-23 with the ball off three overs as Auckland fell short in pursuit.
The win pushed the Knights into a share of second place - with a game in hand - on the tightly-packed competition table with two round-robin matches left for coach James Pamment's team.
Otago's nail-biting win over the Wellington Firebirds in Dunedin yesterday kept the Volts at the top of the table with 24 points from nine of their 10 matches.
Northern climbed to 20 points from eight games while Wellington have 20 from nine outings. The Aces have 16 points from eight matches, as do the Canterbury Wizards.
The Knights will face the Aces again at Hamilton's Seddon Park on Friday night and then end their regular season campaign away to Canterbury in Christchurch on Sunday.
Hamilton will host the finals series next Friday and Saturday, with the top side following the round-robin play automatically progressing to the final while the second and third-placed teams will play a sudden-death encounter to determine the other finalist.
Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins won the toss and surprisingly put the Knights in to bat on an excellent batting wicket.
The visitors made a change to their top order, with Brad Wilson (36 off 33 balls) opening alongside Anton Devcich as skipper and regular opener Daniel Flynn dropped to number four.
Wilson and returning Australian import Dan Harris gave the Knights plenty of impetus in the early overs, with Harris plundering 25 off just 14 balls, hitting three fours and a six as the visitors compiled 55 runs off the first six overs that featured fielding restrictions.
When he fell, Flynn had a cameo 18 off 12 balls but with wickets tumbling regularly, there was the chance of the healthy run-rate stalling before Styris came to the crease at number six.
After taking a handful of balls to play himself in, the 38-year-old then peppered the boundary. He struck five sixes and four fours in getting to 48 off only 18 deliveries to help the visitors to 180 for seven.
That was despite some tight bowling at the death from the Aces, who almost went through the final three overs without the Knights finding the boundary until BJ Watling hit a six from the penultimate ball of the innings.
Former Northern Districts and Black Caps left-arm spinner Bruce Martin was easily the pick of the home team's six bowlers, taking 2-21 off four overs.
Auckland opener Anaru Kitchen led their reply with 42 off 39 balls and he added 42 in five overs for the third wicket with Hopkins (31 off 19).
But once the skipper fell, middle-order wickets fell in quick succession to leave the Auckland tail with no chance of chasing down the target, despite 30 off 16 balls from Donovan Grobbelaar.
Knights off-spinner Jono Boult continued his superb T20 season by taking 2-19 off four overs.
- Fairfax Media
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Which batting pair would be best at opening in ODIs for the Black Caps?