Cricket: Auckland win HRV Cup

The Auckland Aces are again the kings of Twenty20 cricket, after crushing the Canterbury Wizards by 44 runs today to win their second straight HRV Cup.

The Aces were the form team all season, winning seven of nine completed matches, and they proved far too strong for Canterbury at Colin Maiden Park in Auckland, defending their title and qualifying for the lucrative T20 Champions League.

Led by the competition's top run scorer Martin Guptill, Auckland set a mammoth total of 196 after being sent in by Canterbury captain Peter Fulton, and the Wizards never seriously threatened to chase that down in their reply of 152 all out.

The Aces' bowlers restricted Canterbury's momentum by claiming regular wickets, with Andre Adams proving particularly effective in taking 3-32, as the southerners didn't manage to see out their full complement of overs.

Auckland got off to their typical fast start but, atypically, it wasn't Guptill doing the damage. After four overs the Black Cap had faced just four balls but former Pakistan international Azhar Mahmood justified his consolidation of the strike by advancing the score to 30.

Guptill eventually got into the action as he and Mahmood put on 71 for the opening wicket. After the Pakistani fell for a rapid-fire 44, Guptill went on to smash 70 off 41 balls to put his side firmly in charge.

It was Guptill's third half century of a sensational HRV Cup campaign, which produced 434 runs from nine innings in the round robin at an average of 72. His strike rate of 148 was among the best in the country and, with four sixes today, he also tops the standings in that category.

By the time Guptill eventually fell in the 16th over, Auckland were well-placed for a huge total at 142-2. Quick cameos from Colin de Grandhomme (24 off 11) and Gareth Hopkins (17 off 9) ensured they got exactly that, falling a boundary short of 200 for the loss of five wickets.

No Canterbury bowler conceded fewer than seven runs an over, with Yasir Arafat's 2-35 the best of the figures.

The only highlight of the innings for the visitors was a spectacular boundary catch from Rob Nicol to dismiss Anaru Kitchen. Nicol was tip-toeing the rope when he hauled in the ball before lobbing it up, leaving the field of play and returning to reclaim the catch himself.

Both the previous meetings between the sides saw the team batting second successfully chase down a formidable total _ Auckland overhauling 183 and Canterbury returning the favour by reaching 202 _ but the Wizards never looked likely to do that today.

They got off to the worst possible start, taking only eight runs from the first two overs and losing key man Nicol in the process. The scoring rate failed to get off the ground, and when Andre Adams struck twice in his first two overs Canterbury were in serious trouble.

After eight overs, the required rate was up to 12 runs an over but the Wizards continued to lose regular wickets. They fell to 75-6 in the 13th over when Fulton was dismissed, all but securing the trophy for the Aces.

A 50-run partnership from 20 balls between Andy Ellis and Brendon Diamanti _ in which the former smacked five sixes _ gave Canterbury some hope, but Adams' return to the crease saw Diamanti dismissed and ended any doubt as to the game's outcome.

Ellis fell for a valiant 41 from 17 balls and Auckland closed out the match with 44 runs to spare.