Cricket: Tons of runs as Canterbury stun

It was only meant to be a dress rehearsal for the T20 domestic final but nobody gave Canterbury the script.

Auckland, the runaway leaders in this year's HRV Cup, hosted Canterbury at Colin Maiden Park this evening in a dead-rubber round-robin match ahead of Sunday's final.

The defending champion Auckland side would have expected to pull off their eighth win of the competition after they batted first and became the first team to pass the 200-mark this summer, ammassing 202-4 from 20 overs, but they fell to a seven-wicket loss.

Canterbury captain Peter Fulton must have questioned his decision to put the home side in after he won the toss when he saw what his side were required to chase.

Auckland's Pakistani import Azhar Mahmood led the way for the Aces, the 36-year-old hammering an unbeaten century from 61 balls, his second ton in 105 matches in the shortest form of the game.

Mahmood was well supported by his skipper Gareth Hopkins, who made 42 from 28 balls, including three sixes and as many fours.

Canterbury's left-arm spinner George Worker picked up two wickets from three overs, but most of the visiting bowlers were dispatched to all corners of Colin Maiden Park.

Worker then combined with fellow opening batsman Rob Nicol to put on 85 for the first wicket as Canterbury went about chasing down the mammoth Auckland total.

When Worker departed in the eighth over from the bowling of economical spinner Roneel Hira, the second-placed Canterbury outfit were well on their way to pulling off a remarkable chase.

Black Caps middle-order batsman Dean Brownlie kept up the momentum with a rapid 39 from 22 balls and when he and Nicol took 23 from a Bruce Martin over the equation for victory look a lot healthier for Canterbury.

Brownlie's departure brought veteran all-rounder Brendon Diamanti to the crease. He finished on 10 not out, which included a valuable six off Mahmood's bowling when they needed 10 from seven balls.

But the innings belonged to Nicol who hit the winning runs from Hira with a sweep shot to the fine leg boundary to bring up his maiden T20 century from only 57 balls, including a New Zealand domestic record nine sixes as he finished on 101 not out.

Sunday's final certainly has some extra starch added and Canterbury reminded Auckland that they won't have it all their own way.

Central Districts and Wellington meet in New Plymouth tomorrow (weds) with both sides keen to avoid the wooden spoon.

- Daniel Richardson of APNZ