Plunket Shield round eight: Wellington Firebirds 344 all out in 93.4 overs (Joon 60, Murdoch 36, Franklin 33, Barnett 65, McEwan 52; Ferguson 4-46) and 387/5 declared in 94 overs (Papps 171, Murdoch 51, Pollard 55, Franklin 56 not out; O'Donnell 3-74) lead the Mondiale Auckland Aces 350/7 declared in 100.4 overs (Raval 148, Munro 108; McEwan 3-70, McKay 3-106) and 168 all out in 68 overs (Grobbelaar 49, Brad Cachopa 33; McKay 3-30, Patel 3-49, McEwan 3-50) by 213 runs at Colin Maiden Park, Auckland
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Immediately after the early excitement of Michael Papps tickling Robbie O'Donnell for a single to lodge his 10,000th first-class career run — the 24th player to do so in the history of New Zealand cricket, nightwatchman Matt McEwan fell caught behind to bring O'Donnell his second wicket.
It quickly shaped into an entertaining first hour. Eyes on a quick declaration, Firebirds captain James Franklin got his knock chugging lickety-split with two sixes in three balls off Jeet Raval, Papps bringing up his 150 a couple of overs later with a boundary off Robbie O'Donnell, barely a dot ball to be seen as the pair attacked.
Franklin took another six off O'Donnell before the young allrounder had the satisfaction of removing Papps for an exceptional 171 as the opener finally slugged one to Colin Munro. The damage was done, however, the Firebirds' lead having swollen now to more than 330.
Franklin's speedy half-century came off just 33 balls, the declaration coming at 387/5 when he was unbeaten on 56, Tom Blundell having raced to a 14-ball unbeaten 31 alongside him.
After being sent in on the first morning, Franklin had now turned the tables on Michael Bates, his team wresting control of the match over the final two days. Chasing 382, the Mondiale Auckland Aces collapsed under the pressure to be 53/4 by lunch.
The wickets had been shared evenly around the Firebirds' attack but, just a few overs after the break, Andy McKay pounced on his second victim, Robbie O'Donnell caught behind to have the Aces by their throats at 58/5.
Could rearguard genie Brad Cachopa (joining Donovan Grobbelaar, both yet to score) pull one more rabbit out of the hat at Colin's, his happy hunting ground?
His resistance lasted for more than an hour and a half, but when McKay got him caught by Papps for 33, it was another nail, surely, in the Aces' coffin. McKay had 3-20.
Grobbelaar clipped him for a two to take himself to the brink of a positive half-century, but that was as far as he would get. Next over Papps had another catch, Jeetan Patel picking up the wicket: 143/7. The hosts had lost two of their last hopes in the space of eight balls with 239 still required.
Tactically, the Aces had been outplayed. Now they were paying fot it. The last rites beckoned. Just before 5pm, Matt McEwan wrapped it up with his third and final wicket as he trapped Lockie Ferguson lbw, the Firebirds whooping as they claimed a handsome victory to celebrate Michael Papps' milestone day.
Colin Munro picked up where he left off the previous evening, pelting sixes and motoring to his second century at Colin Maiden Park in the space of three Plunket Shield appearances.
It was Munro's eighth first-class ton overall, and he followed it up by pinching two boundaries in one Brent Arnel over to zoom the Aces past the 300 mark, plus raise the 200 partnership off 276 balls at the same time, all just two down as Jeet Raval stood on the verge of his 150.
But Arnel struck back at Munro with his next over, getting the tyro caught behind: 360/3.
Raval had made a more guarded start to the morning, content to play out a few maidens, still on 148 as Robbie O'Donnell joined him at crease. But Raval would go no further: the second centurion in the space off three overs to be caught behind, this time off Matt McEwan, as the Aces quickly tripped from 306/2 to 306/4.
As wickets kept tumbling though the last hour of the morning, captain Michael Bates decided to give his own bowlers another crack, just after the Aces had edged into the lead, seven down.
The Firebirds got through the five overs before lunch without loss, then piled on 103 runs in a healthy middle session, Michael Papps with a half-century by tea and Stephen Murdoch on the verge of one on 47.
Donovan Grobbelaar had been the only successful bowler, claiming Deepak Joon for 12 after the opener had seen out the first hour of the innings. And while the Aces were able to snaffle a couple more wickets in the last session — Murdoch and Michael Pollard both claiming half-centuries first, the final session was owned by Papps as he thundered to his 27th first-class century.
Papps was unbeaten on 136 at stumps and stood on the verge of his 10,000th first-class run, needing just two more for the honour. The Firebirds led by 257 overnight with seven in hand: yet another Plunket Shield match likely to see a result as teams fight hard for points at the business end of the season.
Eight overs on the second morning was all it took for the Mondiale Auckland Aces to wrap up the three remaining Firebirds wickets — but not before Matt McEwan had chalked up a maiden half century, with Brady Barnett taking his own maiden effort on to 65.
When Lockie Ferguson finally broke the late rally with Barnett's wicket, 23-year-old Ferguson meantime notched his career best first-class haul, finishing with 4-46 off his 18 overs.
A rain shower stopped play just two overs into the Aces' reply, 7/0 at the interruption. But by the meat of the middle session, the Aces were comfortably into their work with the bat — Jeet Raval rustling up his half century, accompanied by Carl Cachopa who'd joined him after the early loss of Anaru Kitchen and helped find 77 runs.
Shortly afterwards, however, Andy McKay struck for a second time: Cachopa caught on 29, the Aces 105/2 as Colin Munro walked to the wicket.
Renowned for going fast and big, Munro's innings was tempered at the start as he let Raval's cultured bat do the talking. The pair were in sight of a steady 50-run stand at tea (Munro on 16, Raval 85), then emphatically took control of the last session.
Raval reached his 10th first-class century off 182 balls — his second ton in four games; with a boundary, shortly before Munro broke out one of his customary sixes to post his 73-ball half-century and the Aces' 200 in one swipe, courtesy of Jeetan Patel.
When poor light ended play the pair had taken the Aces into a strong position at 271/2, trailing the Firebirds by just 73 runs after an unbroken stand of 166 for the third wicket.
Michael Bates was once again filling in for Rob Nicol as captain, the regular Mondiale Auckland Aces skipper unavailable as he sees out a mandatory concussion stand-down period after being hit in the front of the helmet by Neil Wagner in the previous round. Carl Cachopa had been brought into the Aces' XI in place of Nicol, along with Ferguson for Colin de Grandhomme.
Conditions were sunny when Bates won the toss, yet he sent the Wellington Firebirds in, hoping to extract some early life. However, despite a full slips cordon, the Firebirds lost only one wicket in the opening session — that of Michael Papps, who was frustrated to be bowled by Ferguson just as he looked to be settling.
New man Stephen Murdoch soon caught up with Deepak Joon, both batsmen unbeaten in the 30s at lunch. Resuming at 112/1, they continued to build a 69-run stand for the Firebirds' second wicket.
But just as they were gathering a bit of substance, Ferguson struck again with the wicket of Murdoch, while Joon was on 49. The studious Joon made it past his half century safely enough with a boundary crunched off Ferguson, but he was caught and bowled on 60 when Dean Bartlett returned to the attack, bringing captain James Franklin to the wicket with two batsmen fresh at the crease at drinks.
By tea, the Firebirds had dug in somewhat to get within sight of their 200, 191/4 at the break with captain Franklin on 22, now with Tom Blundell after the loss of Michael Pollard.
But the last session was the most successful one for the Aces as they claimed three wickets in the space of eight overs, while the Firebirds added 104 runs in the session before bad light brought a premature conclusion to day one. At stumps the Firebirds were 295/7 with unbeaten Brady Burnett (in for Alecz Day) four runs away from a maiden half-century, having shared a lively 63-run late stand with Matt McEwan.