Four in fray for final with one round to go
Daniel Vettori produced a polished all-round performance to steer Northern Districts to a 60-run win over Wellington at the Basin Reserve. Vettori, batting at No. 3, scored 57 off 41 balls in a 112-run partnership with Tillakaratne Dilshan for the second wicket. Dilshan played his part with 59 off 52 balls to lay the platform for ND's 191 for 8. Wellington crumbled under pressure during the chase and were cleaned up for 131 in 18.3 overs as ND backed their batting with a strong fielding display. Wellington were 60 for 7 at the halfway mark, mostly due to Owais Shah's 25 off 19 balls. Although Dewayne Bowden (34) and Mark Houghton (32) wagged in the Wellington tail, ND were never in doubt. Bradley Scott was ND's most succcessful bowler with 4 for 13, and Vettori finished with 2 for 31.
Otago's chances of defending their title looked increasingly shaky as they were humbled by Central Districts by four wickets in Dunedin. A score of 121 for 9 after being invited to bat, was never going to be enough for the hosts against CD's powerful batting lineup. The captain Jamie How's rapid 50 from 36 balls paved the way to victory and late cameos from Ross Taylor (23) and Jacob Oram (22) took them home with nine balls to spare. Earlier, the seamer Seth Rance claimed a miserly 2 for 14, frustrating an Otago batting effort that faltered after the exits after Neil Broom (38) and Brendon McCullum (28).
Martin Guptill's hurricane 97 took Auckland closer to a spot in the final as they beat Canterbury by six wickets at Village Green. His 60-ball innings, comprising seven fours and a six, took Auckland home with an over to spare and kept Canterbury rooted to the bottom with a round to play. Auckland still needed 39 runs off 20 balls to win when captain Gareth Hopkins became the fourth casualty. Colin de Grandhomme clubbed his first ball, from Carl Frauenstein, for six and the classy Guptill then unleashed havoc, peppering the boundary with relative ease. Paceman Chris Martin knocked over Lou Vincent and Ravi Bopara cheaply but the other Canterbury bowlers struggled. The going was no better for Canterbury's batsmen, aside from in-form opener Rob Nicol, who plundered 58 off 33 balls to inspire a rapid start after being put in. However, their innings faltered over the second half, largely through some tight bowling from Bopara, who claimed 3 for 21 off four overs.
After the latest results, four teams are ready to slug it out in an exciting final round on Tuesday. Auckland, CD, ND and Otago are in the fray for next Sunday's final; Auckland host Otago and ND are home to CD at Hamilton. The two winners should advance, although a narrow loss for table-toppers Auckland may still be enough for them, given their impressive net run-rate.