Stumps update: Match drawn, ending Canterbury's quest for the Plunket Shield as the Aces would take an outright and unbeatable points lead further north in Wellington.
Tea update: Canterbury 24/2 requiring 259 to win. But by drinks Canterbury would be 70/5, and from there shut up shop — leading to the uncommon sight of Daniel Flynn, Bharat Popli and BJ Watling having a bowl.
Lunch update: SKYCITY Northern Knights 308/5, an overall lead of 235, Bharat Popli having continued throughout the morning session to sit on an unbeaten 79 at the break.
After the interval, at 92, the season's leading runscorer was seemingly in sight of yet another century when suddenly legspinner Todd Astle got the big wicket, and celebrated it in fitting style.
The Knights' tally would be augmented by Tim Seifert's third first-class half century (58*), while Astle also celebrated his 250th first-class wicket for Canterbury when he had Daryl Mitchell caught on 14.
BHARAT POPLI ACHIEVES ELITE SEASON MILESTONE
A special day for SKYCITY Northern Knights batsman Bharat Popli who joined the elite group of Martin Crowe, Jeff Crowe, Graeme Hicks and Michael Papps as men to have scored 1000 runs in a New Zealand first-class season, with two innings to spare.
The unassuming 25-year-old engineer from Bay of Plenty achieved the mark at Hagley Oval when he reached 32 in the second innings. With another possible two innings to come this summer, Popli is poised to overtake Papps on the season run haul front — moreover, he was unbeaten on 36 overnight, having helped the Knights build a 130-run lead over embattled defending champions Canterbury.
The Knights closed a good Good Friday at 203/4 in the second innings, leading by 130 runs.
Earlier, Peter Fulton, Todd Astle and Cameron Fletcher had all shared the Canterbury high score of the day and of the innings — 58 — as they looked to recover from a tough previous day.
When their first innings closed at 258 all out, they had managed to salvage a 73-run lead. But it was soon overcome, Knights Daniel Flynn (51) and Dean Brownlie (59) getting off to a flier in their second innings.
Despite dipping to 203/4 at stumps, Popli's continued presence puts the Knights in the box seat.
Other day three milestones:
Zak Gibson: career best bowling with 4-62
Brett Hampton: career best bowling with 4-78
Hamish Bennett: 150th first-class wicket for Canterbury when he dismissed Daniel Flynn.
First innings batting bonus points, Knights: 0 (completed), Canterbury 2 (completed)
First innings bowling bonus points: Canterbury 4 (completed), Knights 4 (completed).
After losing the entire morning session to rain, Canterbury was able to resume its innings at 1pm — however, it would take only six balls for a wicket to fall, Zak Gibson adding his second in Michael Davidson, who directed the last ball of his first over of the day straight to Daryl Mitchell in the slips: 9/2.
Nineteen-year-old newbie Gibson quickly made it three after Chad Bowes gave a faint edge to the keeper, bringing Ken McClure in to battle with Peter Fulton.
By drinks, Canterbury had eked its way to 45/3, Fulton leading the way with a patient 23. But disaster struck straight after the break as McClure lashed at Brett Hampton, only to sky a top edge to Gibson: 45/4.
Andy Ellis joined forces with Fulton at that fulcral moment and together the two seasoned campaigners steadied the ship, chipping away for 65 runs before Fulton summarily edged part-timer Daryl Mitchell... and the fifth wicket stand was broken just as it had looked like they were getting some traction.
By tea, Ellis and Todd Astle had advanced the score to 129/5 off a dramatic 42 overs, Canterbury trailing by just 56 — but still some way off any batting bonus points.
The afternoon ended prematurely with the return of the rain. In the previous over, however, Ellis had been given caught on 43, although it appeared luck favoured the bowler. Canterbury was now 150/6 and trailing by 35 runs, Todd Astle on 23 overnight with Cameron Fletcher yet to get off the mark.
Stumps score: Canterbury 8/1. Earlier: SKYCITY Northern Knights 185 in 64.1 overs (Daniel Flynn 30, Joe Walker career best 36 not out; Hamish Bennett 3-42, Todd Astle 3-10) at Hagley Oval, 23 March 2016
Canterbury, defending champions of the Plunket Shield for two years running, had every right to enter their last home encounter of the season feeling a touch nervous.
Their fate lay in the hands of others now, at the Basin — but they still had to push for maximum points themselves with a win to stay in it. Hopefully. Possibly.
Then, just to add to the frisson of tension, the wet weather turned up at Hagley Oval to mess around with day one — and probably will be back, here and there, throughout the week.
At least they won the toss. As in the other two matches, early conditions were consequently brisk as paceman Hamish Bennett celebrated his 50th first-class appearance with quick wickets.
He got three of the first four, including the solid Bharat Popli who inched 26 runs closer to achieving 100 runs in a season before he edged one behind.
Captain Daniel Flynn had meanwhile already departed for 30, which for some time threatened to be the Knights’ top score of the day as first Bennett then legspinner Todd Astle made their life difficult.
But young Joe Walker found some pluck, batting for almost an hour and a half at nine for a career best unbeaten 39.
He had been supported by the even younger number 10 Zak Gibson, who survived 59 balls himself for a handy 18 in only his second match.
The pair put on 48 runs together to help stretch the Knights’ tally out from what had been 127/7, then 127/8, to 185.
Something, if not much, to bowl at — and it was Gibson who would grab an early one in reply before bad light ended play, with showers also having started to send the players on and off in the session.
Gibson beat opener Leo Carter with a sharp delivery, leaving Canterbury captain Peter Fulton unbeaten on four and Michael Davidson on one overnight, with fingers and toes crossed for good fortune on day two. Rain, however, is in store.