A career-best, unbeaten 80 from 24-year-old allrounder Ben Wheeler helped Central Districts seal a tight chase of 295 against Canterbury, and confirm their place in the final of the Ford Trophy 2015-16. Wheeler's knock came from No. 8, and egging him on from the other end was the brutal force of Jesse Ryder - he made 136 off 114 from No. 3, smoking seven sixes and 13 fours. The pair added 163 in 21 overs, at close to eight an over, rescuing Central Districts from the pits of 105 for 6 to help them home with two wickets and three balls to spare.
It was right-arm pacer Kyle Jamieson who had done a large chunk of the damage to Central Districts' top order, and he threatened to derail them once again with the massive wicket of Ryder in 44th over, with the team still 27 runs short of their target. Wheeler kept his head though, and finished the job.
Canterbury's 294 was built around a brisk century from opener Tom Latham - he scored 126 off 135. The rest of the top order made 20- and 30-somethings around him to ensure the team got within range of 300. Medium-pacer Seth Rance was the most incisive of the Central Districts bowlers, with three middle-order wickets, and Doug Bracewell made sure Canterbury did not get past 300 by polishing off the tail.
Canterbury will have a second shot at the final when they take on Otago in the third preliminary final on Wednesday - they get a second chance since they finished the league stage in the top two on the points table, along with Central Districts. Central Districts, meanwhile, will have a week to prepare for the title game, which is scheduled for next Saturday.
Otago had finished the league stage third on the points table and therefore have twice the work to do: they took the first step successfully, beating Auckland in the second preliminary final (effectively a quarter-final, with the loser going out and the winner needing to win one more game to get into the final).
Otago batted first and piled up 312, led by 109 from Neil Broom. Batting at No. 3, Broom put on 158 with Michael Bracewell (69), after the other opener Anaru Kitchen was out off second legal ball of the game. Jimmy Neesham also chipped in with 59 off 54, before Derek de Boorder's late cameo of 24 lifted them past 300.
By the eighth over of the chase, 21-year-old pacer Jacob Duffy had Otago firmly on top. He took three early wickets, reducing Auckland to 40 for 3. Neil Wagner and Neesham struck soon after, and the game was as good as done. Unlike Central Districts' case, there was no Auckland revival. Rain did end things early and Duckworth/Lewis came into play, but by then Auckland were already spluttering at 159 for 8 in 34, deemed to be 126 short of a winning score.