A brutal knock from skipper Scott Styris has bolstered the Northern Knights' chances of capturing the domestic Twenty20 title for the first time.
The former Black Caps allrounder blasted eight sixes during his 26-ball innings of 68 not out to almost single-handedly determine the outcome of their latest HRV Cup encounter versus the Auckland Aces in Auckland today.
The match at Eden Park's Outer Oval was initially reduced to 12 overs per side due to a number of rain breaks, with the SkyCity Knights reaching 142 for four.
Rain in the break between innings saw Auckland's target set at 73 from six overs but the hosts finished their chase at 49-6 for a 23-run victory under the Duckworth/Lewis method.
Styris hit three consecutive sixes in one over from Andre Adams, who conceded 55 runs from his three overs as Styris and James Marshall (15 not out off 10 balls) added an unbeaten 73 off just 4.1 overs for the fifth wicket to swing the game in the visitors favour after Auckland grabbed the early initiative.
The Knights now lead the Cup with 16 points at the midway stage of their campaign, with four wins from five matches after inflicting Auckland's first loss from the three matches the defending champs have played in the tournament which started almost two months ago. The Wellington Firebirds climbed into second spot with a 53-run win over the Central Stags at the Basin Reserve in the capital yesterday.
The 37-year-old Styris totally altered the complexion of a match which saw the hosts win the toss and wisely elected to bowl under grey skies.
The Knights were without the Black Caps quintet of Kane Williamson, Daniel Flynn, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult and BJ Watling, who are in South Africa, while Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori were ruled out through injury.
The defending champions were also missing a handful of big names on international duty, with Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenagahan, Colin Munro, Chris Martin and Bruce Martin also in the republic.
The encounter had only witnessed five balls before the players were forced off by showers sweeping across the ground, but in that time Knights opener Anton Devcich had edged Kyle Mills' first ball just short of Phil Mustard at first slip and through to the boundary for four and later in the over off-drove Mills for another boundary.
Play resumed after a 45-minute break but they could only manage to complete the opening over and Matt Quinn's first over on debut for Auckland before drizzle forced them off again.
Mills picked up the wickets of opener Brad Wilson and English import Steven Croft as the visitors were forced by circumstances to adopt a cavalier attitude to accumulating runs. Mills, unwanted by the national limited-overs side, took 2-17 off his full complement of three overs.
Devcich made a rapid 28 off 17 balls (five fours and a six) but Auckland were still on top until the surprising introduction of Colin de Grandhomme to the bowling crease. The Knights took 18 off the seventh over from him and his second over went for 16 more as the Knights regularly found the boundary before Styris pummelled Adams in the closing overs.
AUCKLAND ACES vs NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Eden Park, Auckland
AP Devcich c Bhupinder Singh b D Grobbelaar 28
BS Wilson c GJ Hopkins b KD Mills 5
SJ Croft c GJ Hopkins b KD Mills 3
SB Styris not out 68
JS Foster c GJ Hopkins b AR Adams 13
JAH Marshall not out 15
Extras (lb 0, wd 9, nb 1) 10
Total (for 4 wickets, 12.0 overs) 142
Fall: 1-17 (BS Wilson, 2.4), 2-29 (SJ Croft, 4.1), 3-40 (AP Devcich, 5.4), 4-69 (JS Foster, 7.5)
Bowling: KD Mills 3-0-17-2, MR Quinn 2-0-16-0, D Grobbelaar 2-0-20-1, C de Grandhomme 2-0-34-0 (4w), AR Adams 3-0-55-1 (1w, 1nb)
L Vincent c DJ Mitchell b BJ Arnel 1
P Mustard c JAH Marshall b SB Styris 14
C de Grandhomme c DJ Mitchell b AP Devcich 7
GJ Hopkins not out 18
AK Kitchen b BE Scott 3
Craig Cachopa c SB Styris b BE Scott 2
D Grobbelaar run out (JS Foster) 0
KD Mills not out 2
Extras (lb 0, wd 1, nb 1) 2
Total (for 6 wickets, 6.0 overs) 49
Fall: 1-3 (L Vincent, 0.4), 2-21 (P Mustard, 2.3), 3-30 (C de Grandhomme, 3.5), 4-45 (AK Kitchen, 5.1), 5-47 (Craig Cachopa, 5.3), 6-47 (D Grobbelaar, 5.4)
Bowling: BJ Arnel 2-0-21-1 (1w, 1nb), A Verma 1-0-6-0, SB Styris 1-0-10-1, AP Devcich 1-0-8-1, BE Scott 1-0-4-2
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