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Burger King Super Smash might have slipped under the radar with New Zealand having a busy international campaign, but the competition has been far from humdrum. We've seen plenty of towering totals being chased and low totals being defended over the course of the tournament. Northern Knights became the first team to qualify for the playoffs while Aces and Stags followed them soon thereafter. Auckland Aces and Central Stags are set to lock horns in the Preliminary Final which is to be played at Auckland on 15th February. Coincidentally, the two teams met each other not long ago where Auckland Aces trumped Central Districts with considerable ease. While the Aces will be looking to extend their winning run and take the momentum into the grand finale, Central Districts will be looking to avenge their last league's game defeat. Unlike the round-robin fixtures, the pressure will be immense on both the sides, and the team which handles the pressure better is more likely to go through.
After having a terrible start to the tournament, Auckland Aces rose from the bottom half of the tournament and got to the second spot with some splendid performances in the back-end of the tournament. The Aces are coming into the playoffs with a hot five-match winning streak. They last lost a match back on 6th January against Northern Knights and have only gained momentum since then.
They were brilliant against Central Districts in their last game where they chased down a reasonably competitive total with eight wickets in hand and 17 balls to spare. Winning the toss and choosing to bat first, Central Stags got off to a flying start and had their first fifty runs on board in no time with the loss of just one wicket. The Aces, however, pulled things back once the field restrictions were lifted as their spinners came into play. Will Sommerville and Ronnie Hira strangled Stags as the duo picked up five wickets between them for just 52 runs combined in seven overs. The Stags were eventually restricted for 174.
Auckland Aces have experimented with their batting order in the competition, but they didn't decide to tinker with it in the last fixture. DJ Bell-Drummond smashed almost all bowlers around the park as he raced away to his fifty. He was dismissed for a personal score of 74 and played an important role in Aces' rather one-sided win. Mark Chapman, too, has been in brilliant form this season and scored unbeaten 75 off just 41 deliveries. With a top order consisting of Bell-Drummond, Glenn Phillips, and Mark Chapman, the Aces are certainly not short on hitting power. Furthermore, Colin Munro will rejoin his Aces teammates and with a fantastic 72-run knock behind him scored against India, Auckland Aces have a top-order which even the best teams in the world will be envious of.
GD Phillips, Colin Munro, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Craig Cachopa, Mark Chapman, Robert O'Donnell, Ronnie Hira, Donovan Grobbelaar, MJ Mcclenaghan, W Somerville, Matthew Quinn.
Central Stags, too, had a poor start to the tournament but did well to build the momentum in the middle stage of the competition. They finished third on the ladder with five wins to their names. They are coming to Auckland with two losses in their last three matches where they exhibited plenty of vulnerabilities.
The most prominent of those were the problems with their fragile middle-order and a bowling attack that looked rather one-dimensional. Twice in the last three matches have we seen their batting order collapse as they did against Auckland Aces. It was even worse in the earlier game, against Northern Knights, where they were dismantled completely for 99.
Adam Milne made a strong comeback to T20 cricket after spending three months on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury. He accounted for both the Aces' wickets and returned with the figures of 35 for 2 in his four overs. Barring that, however, Stags' bowling appeared one dimensional. Ben Wheeler and Seth Rance were carted all around the ground as they together conceded at more than ten runs an over. None of their bowlers could restrict the Aces from scoring which is something which something they'll need to rectify on priority in their upcoming match. They have a few issues to sort and if they can do that, Auckland Aces aren't going to have an easy time as they had when the two teams met a couple of days ago.
Will Young, George Worker, Dean Foxcroft, Tom Bruce, Dane Cleaver, Doug Bracewell, KN Barnett, Ben Wheeler, Adam Milne, Seth Rance, Ajaz Patel.
With Aces having momentum in the order of high magnitude, the Stags have a colossal task to do in the upcoming fixture. Central Stags were dominated in all facets of the game where Aces appeared to be playing on an altogether different level. The Aces earned the home advantage and it isn't going to be easy for the Stags to bounce back with Aces playing in familiar conditions in front of a favorable crowd. With momentum, a powerful top-order, and a bowling attack suited for the surface, the Aces are likely to be too hot to handle for the Stags yet again. The hosts are firm favorites to win the upcoming encounter and progress to the grand finale of Super Smash 2019.
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