The excitement of men's Dream11 Super Smash returned to Northland for the first time since November 2015 with hosts Northern Brave looking to extend their advantage at the top of the table - against one of their immediate challengers.
The Wellington Firebirds had headed into the big match clinging onto third spot, but equal on points with the Auckland Aces.
The Brave meanwhile sat six points ahead on 22 and the Canterbury Kings in second on 20, with the heat on all four teams with just three Finals spots up for grabs.
Both sides were fresh off big wins against the Central Stags, but local conditions presented a different challenge in Whangarei where a field day for the spinners and tricky chases were on the cards.
The women's low-scoring spinfest had warned of the danger, and the Firebirds found themselves in a similar predicament as Brave's women, with a low tally on the board after having won the toss and batted.
Jimmy Neesham's run-a-ball 20 was the top score in a total of 104, the visitors bowled out for one of their lower T20 totals in 18.3 overs.
Northern's spinners had snaffled five wickets between them and cleaned up the back end of the innings with the help of a brilliantly deadly side-on throw from Colin de Grandhomme that ran out Ben Sears by a whisker.
Earlier, the Brave had made a big early breakthrough by stopping Finn Allen early in the power play as Anurag Verma (3-25) struck in his first over in an impressive afternoon from the seamer.
But it was the slow bowling department of Ish Sodhi (1-22), Mitch Santner (2-15) and Joe Walker (a lean 2-14 off four overs) that really put the squeeze on, and got the Firebirds in a spin.
After Sodhi had removed Michael Bracewell cheaply - fresh off his record Dream11 Super Smash century, at 55/4 - boundaries were scarce as Neesham and Rachin Ravindra grappled for a score through the middle.
The pressure mounted as the last six wickets fell for a cost of just 21 runs in the space of just four action-packed overs.
Spinners quickly made an impact on the chase, too, with leggie Peter Younghusband, Rachin Ravindra and Michael Bracewell all picking up wickets in their first overs.
The Brave had worked hard to stay on course, and reached 61/3 at the midway point - having just lost their steadying captain and opener Jeet Raval.
Now just 43 were needed at run a ball and they just needed to hold onto the wickets through the back half.
Ravindra kept the pressure on from the Firebirds with a return catch to remove Mitch Santner at 70/4, but de Grandhomme was set and when he suddenly pelted a long six off Bracewell, the equation improved to 24 runs off 30 through the back five overs.
De Grandhomme was the key. He again top-scored for Northern, his steady and unbeaten 41* guiding the hosts to a six-wicket win with an over to spare as they now open up a six-point lead over the Canterbury Kings at the top of the table.
Article added: Sunday 16 January 2022
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