The Otago Volts became the first team to drop out of the running for the 2017 McDonald’s Super Smash trophy after going down by seven wickets to the Aces in Dunedin.
The Aces still need a win against the Stags in Auckland on Tuesday to be thoroughly sure of a playoff spot, but they did their chances no harm today as they comfortably glided past the Volts’ 175 for seven with two overs to spare in the chase.
It was a welcome turnaround for the season’s early leaders, who had since gone on a four-match losing streak — including a galling away defeat to the Stags. Yet the table has been so tight, all of a sudden they are back up to second spot at the completion of nine rounds.
The Volts had set the pace after winning the toss, but not before losing both openers (Anaru Kitchen edging skywards, and Ryan Duffy’s return ending in a quick lbw) to Donovan Grobbelaar.
When Derek de Boorder sent up a caught and bowled to young spinner Ben Horne, it was over to the usual suspects — Hamish Rutherford at four, Michael Bracewell, Josh Finnie and Brad Wilson — to find the runs.
Rutherford and Finnie were explosive, the captain blasting his 42 off just 27 balls and Finnie following suit at the same clip. They would each contribute three sixes to the cause as the run rate soared, but a shy at the stumps from keeper Glenn Phillips as Rutherford scrambled through for a would-be single proved a massive blow.
Finnie would carry on through the next nine overs for an unbeaten 45, but would lose the assistance of both Bracewell (15 off 11) and Wilson as Colin de Grandhomme picked up both their wickets, Wilson caught in the deep for a 15-ball 30 just as they looked set for a big finish.
A total of 175 never seemed enough on paper to unnerve the power-packed Aces, and so it proved. Young opener Phillips would carry his bat in an unbeaten 62, setting up the win with a 71-run stand for the first wicket with captain Rob Nicol.
They were a fearsome combo of youth and experience, both aggressive to the point of peeved as they looked to change their side’s fortunes in a hurry. Short bowling only helped their cause as Nicol reached a half century, then ushered the way for the big man Colin de Grandhomme to slap a quick 30 off half as many balls and Jeet Raval (21 off 12) to assist in changing the chase down to a walk in the park.
The Volts had made the playoffs last season: this time, their southern hopes had gone in the hands of the defending champions. They have one last match in round 10, against the Firebirds at the Basin at 2pm on Tuesday, which may yet determine who goes through.