The Mondiale Auckland Aces extended their pre-Christmas lead on the Plunket Shield points table, ultimately cruising home on the last afternoon at Hagley Oval to claim their match against Canterbury by five wickets — although just an hour later, the Wellington Firebirds would join them on 60 points, after cementing an outright of their own in Queenstown in a round in which all three matches finished with a victor.
Young batsman Shawn Hicks boomed a six off Tim Anderson to complete the job in style, after having earlier been permitted to sit back and enjoyed the show as Colin de Grandhomme charged to his eighth first-class century for the Aces, and ninth overall.
De Grandhomme was unbeaten on 106 off 92 balls, having thundered two sixes and 11 fours to ensure the hosts would not have a shout on the last day. His brutal century had taken just 89 balls. He was assisted by Canterbury whose catching let them down under pressure.
The match had ended just after the clock struck three (and this after a weather-delayed start). At lunch, de Grandhomme had gone in on 40, the Aces needing just 97 more for the win. He'd had the support of Robbie O'Donnell (37 at the break), the Aces set at 141/4.
All the time in the world, but de Grandhomme was in the mood for boundaries and quick end to Canterbury's faint hopes. The 100-run stand for the fifth wicket flew off just 121 balls, but even the loss of O'Donnell in the middle session couldn't destabilise the notorious big-hitter, with his eyes on the prize.
O'Donnell would prove the last of the wickets to fall as defending champs Canterbury was left in the visitors' wake, the Aces now opening up a 14-point gap over them with the outright.
Stumps score: Mondiale Auckland Aces, 47/2 (second innings) require 191 runs to win. Earlier, Canterbury was all out for 222 (second innings; Cameron Fletcher career best 77 not out, Tim Johnston 49; Michael Bates 5-48) at Hagley Oval
A rain delay saw day three's play suspended until after lunch, but once things got underway it was the visiting Aces who were able to make the most of the conditions.
Their bowlers were finding good areas as Canterbury’s batsmen struggled to get going, the top and middle order all going relatively cheaply.
However, Canterbury’s lower middle order and tail were able to wag significantly, taking the fizz out of their guests.
Wicketkeeper-batsman (and who isn't both these days?) Cameron Fletcher was able to build a career best 77 that in turn helped Canterbury build a lead of 237.
Tim Johnston (49) put a second useful score on the board for the match, although the Aces thought they had had him caught behind first ball.
Michael Bates led the bowling charge for the Aces as the experienced campaigner claimed his fifth five-wicket haul: 5/48, coming off 18 overs with two maidens.
Last man Ed Nuttall completed his bag and left the Aces with 16 overs to face to close out the day. It looked to be going smoothly for openers Michael Guptill-Bunce and Jeet Raval, until Raval came unstuck to the dangerous Nuttall.
Guptill-Bunce seemed to moving well as he made his way to 24, doing his scoring mostly in boundaries before he, too, fell lbw to Nuttall.
That saw Robbie O’Donnell to the crease with Rob Nicol, and the duo was able to steer their side to stumps at 47/2 without further drama.
Stumps score: Canterbury 7/1 (second innings) lead by 22 runs after Mondiale Auckland Aces 279 all out (Michael Guptill-Bunce career best 93, Shawn Hicks 35, Nathan McAndrew 65 on debut; Ed Nuttall 5-72) at Hagley Oval on Waitangi Day 2016
The weather was stunning and the cricket eventful. The visiting Mondiale Auckland Aces resumed on Waitangi Day morning at 10/1, having bowled Canterbury out for 294 on day one.
Jeet Raval had been lost the previous night, the first of what would prove to be a second career five-for for young Ed Nuttall, after his maiden effort last season.
So, Guptill-Bunce was now partnered by Robbie O’Donnell. However, Canterbury started their day's work well and, after just 10 overs, O'Donnell was back on his way, having been caught off Logan van Beek.
Guptill-Bunce would not prove as easy to remove, carrying on to anchor the innings. He had just made it to a new career best of 93, and the Aces to 115 for three, before falling victim to an lbw shout from legspinner Todd Astle.
It would prove to be a big moment in the innings. Fizzed up by the breakthrough, the Cantabrians then put on an impressive display to get rid of captain Rob Nicol, Brad Cachopa and Colin de Grandhomme all within five overs.
Nuttall was the man doing most of the damage, picking up the first two of the trio before Andy Ellis swept in to take out de Grandhomme, bowling him for just one run.
Young Shawn Hicks managed to provide some resistance, patiently making his way to 35 off 90 balls. Australian Nathan McAndrew also made a strong contribution, reaching a half century on first-class debut and getting as far as 63 before Nuttall’s dangerous bowling knocked him over.
A spree of late wickets ultimately saw the Aces restricted to 279, just 15 runs short of Canterbury’s first innings.
Tom Latham and Leo Carter opened Canterbury’s second dig, but the Aces proved tight late in the day with Donovan Grobbelaar elated to get Latham lbw for just two runs.
Stumps score: Mondiale Auckland Aces 10/1 in reply to Canterbury's 294 (Tom Latham 65, Andrew Ellis 41, Logan van Beek 34, Tim Johnston 76; Colin de Grandhomme 3-56) at Hagley Oval, 5 February 2016
The return of Plunket Shield, brought to you by Budget Rental, saw an eventful first day’s play at Hagley Oval.
In a day on which Sydney Thunder’s Nathan McAndrew made his first-class debut outside his native Australia, 11 wickets fell as momentum jumped back and forth between the sides.
Mondiale Auckland Aces captain Rob Nicol had won the toss and decided to send Cantebury in.
The locals had a mixed day, opening on a deck that looked to have a solid green tinge.
Leo Carter and Tom Latham (65) found scoring tough going early on, but still managed to slowly tick things over.
They looked to have seen things off as they headed towards lunch, but McAndrew was able to pick up his maiden wicket in Carter just before the break.
The second session then saw two quick strikes from Colin de Grandhomme. The big allrounder had two key wickets, Peter Fulton and BLACKCAP Latham trudging back to the sheds in quick succession.
De Grandhomme (3-38) then really put his side on a roll as he cleaned up Todd Astle, who played all around his delivery.
It looked that the Aces might be able to put the foot down from there, but a fightback from Canterbury’s in-form skipper Andrew Ellis and Cole McConchie saw some momentum swing back towards the home side.
Donovan Grobbelaar (3-56) and leggie Tarun Nethula (2-53) managed to close down the Aces on 294. Just not before the capable Tim Johnston, batting at nine, had made a career-best 76 off 64, combining in a very useful stand of 80 with Logan van Beek.
At stumps, the Aces were 10/1 in reply, having lost Jeet Raval in a tricky five-over stint, caught behind on the last ball of the day.
Ed Nuttall had removed Raval with just two balls left in the final over of the day.