Plunket Shield round nine, 21-24 March 2017 at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
By lunch on the last day, Northern Districts had finally succeeded in dismissing the Wellington Firebirds, but had also already lost a wicket in the seven overs they had faced before the break.
It had been spin that had done it once again, Luke Woodcock trapping Henry Cooper to have the hosts 10 for one. The Firebirds needed every ounce of turn they could find, for ND needed only 149 from the final two sessions to claim the win.
Earlier, stubborn century machine Michael Papps had taken his overnight score of 120 to 160 as he and the equally determined Brent Arnel shared a 10th wicket partnership record of 89 for the Firebirds against ND.
First innings batting bonus points, Firebirds 0 (completed), ND 2 (completed)
First innings bowling bonus points, ND 4 (maximum achieved), Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved)
In just his third first-class match leg-spinner Peter Younghusband (5-89) wrapped up his maiden five-wicket bag with the last of the Northern Districts wickets to fall, the hosts dismissed in the first hour for 262.
The dismissal of Sodhi (31) a few overs earlier had ensured the Firebirds matched ND with maximum bowling points, Iain McPeake removing him for no addition to his overnight score with a regulation caught behind.
Debutant Brett Randell was left unbeaten on 25 after a solid effort from the home side tail, Joe Walker earlier having blitzed 27 batting at eight.
The tally gave ND a 111-run lead heading into the second innings but, once again, the Firebirds would be in for a battle at the batting crease.
Captain Michael Papps was the sole light as he worked up his 31st first-class century, and 11th for the Firebirds. The veteran is in a rich vein of form, having now tonned up in each of his last three matches.
The problem was he had next to no support, reaching the milestone with his side nine down and holding a second innings lead still only in double figures.
Thirty (Hamish Marshall) had been the next highest score after Scott Kuggelelijn knocked over the early wickets, then the tail had fallen away in another tough day at the office against the ND spin arsenal.
Now Papps was almost going it alone, number eleven Brent Arnel his last sidekick. Yet the unlikely pair took the score past 200, then the lead to 102. By stumps, both were still unbeaten, Papps on 120* and Arnel 8* in a 33-run stand for the 10th wicket.
First innings batting bonus points, Firebirds 0 (completed), ND 2 (in progress)
First innings bowling bonus points, ND 4 (maximum achieved), Firebirds 3 (in progress)
Spinners continued to dominate at Bay Oval on day two as Wellington Firebirds leg-spinner Peter Younghusband ripped his way to a career best 4-84 by stumps.
Luke Woodcock was in the action too, while Tom Blundell, better known as a wicketkeeper and batsman, was a surprise turn at the bowling crease and picked up his maiden first-class wicket — Daryl Mitchell bowled on 51 — with just his second delivery.
Spinners took six of the eight Northern Districts wickets to fall in the day, ND making it through to 252 for eight at stumps for a lead of 101 in the first innings. Bharat Popli had been the biggest contributor for the hosts, breaking a lean run with a cautious 63 as he combined with Mitchell for a sorely needed 88 runs for the fourth wicket.
They would fall in consecutive overs, however, as Blundell and Younghusband celebrated. It triggered another clump of wickets until Ish Sodhi (31*) settled in with debutant Brett Randell, the pair sharing an unbroken 49-run stand for the ninth wicket by stumps.
Eleven wickets made for an action-packed first day at a picture-perfect Bay Oval for the two sides fighting hardest to stay in contention for the Plunket Shield.
Sent in, the Wellington Firebirds failed to pick up a single batting bonus point as Northern Districts’ spinners enjoyed what’s becoming a traditional happy hunting ground for slower bowlers.
Joe Walker picked up a maiden first-class five-wicket bag by ripping through the Firebirds' tail while Ish Sodhi accounted for two key wickets, Michael Papps falling for just 19 after having knuckled down for an hour and a half.
Fraser Colson had come in at first drop for the unavailable Stephen Murdoch and made good use of his opportunity, batting for almost five hours for his 60. It was the top score, before he became one of the last wickets to tumble — Sodhi finally enticing him to make an offering to the slips.
Pace bowler Brett Randell had meanwhile picked up a classy pair of wickets on debut in BLACKCAPS Tom Blundell and Luke Ronchi, in the space of two balls. The Firebirds were ultimately bundled out in the last hour for just 151 — ND taking the full four bowling bonus points.
That left a tricky little period for the ND openers, and Henry Cooper would last only eight deliveries before Hamish Bennett scattered his bails, the hosts 11 for one overnight.