AUCKLAND ACES v CENTRAL STAGS
Eden Park Outer Oval
17-20 October 2018
Result: Central Stags won by 151 runs
Total points this round: Central Stags 20, Auckland Aces 4
With just over two overs to go until the tea break, the Central Stags needed to make something happen. Despite a solid first-innings lead, things hadn't entirely gone to plan for the visitors on the third day.
The Auckland Aces had fought their way back into the game — starting by dismissing first-innings centurion Dane Cleaver in the first over of the day, and ending with the Stags bundled out in their second dig for just 184, with no batsmen going past young Christian Leopard's 37.
Again, the wickets had been shared, Sean Solia and Raja Sandhu grabbing a three-fa each while keeper Ben Horne was the unsung star of the show, finishing with an astounding nine catches from the match — a new Auckland record for victims in one match, beating nine previous feats by various keepers through the decades of eight in a match.
But the job was not over, the Aces' batsmen still needing to hunt down a target of 351.
Opening the attack alongside Seth Rance, Doug Bracewell got the Central attack off to a near-perfect start by pushing one through the defences of Aces captain Michael Guptill-Bunce with the last ball of the first over.
A scoreboard tale of 1/1 then quickly deteriorated to 66 for four, Robbie O'Donnell's loss a big blow after also departing scoreless, trapped by Adam Milne.
Yet the Stags still needed something to go their way, for remaining at the crease was BLACKCAPS opener Jeet Raval.
Resolute Raval had shared a 50-stand with Sean Solia to help settle the dust, then brought up his own half century off just 77 balls.
But just after he had helped get the first hundred runs on the board — reducing the target to 251 in just over a session, Rance delivered the crucial blow. Raval was caught behind on 57, and the Stags went to tea with an extra bounce in their step.
Now the early frontrunners needed just five more wickets now for the outright, while the Aces' backroom needed to produce a concentrated effort from 114 for five to tick off the remaining 237 runs.
Young Ace Finn Allen ticked off a quick half century (65 balls) in the final session in a 47-run stand for the sixth, and reduced the target to exactly 200 with the same stroke – run rate hardly an issue with more than a day to play.
Once Ryan McCone broke through, however, the Aces petered out as the Stags motored through the tail, permitted the extra half hour to dismiss the Aces for 199 and ensure the match would not go to a fourth day — winning their second outright on the bounce by an impressive 151 runs and holding top spot on the points table.
The Plunket Shield now takes a break with the one-day Ford Trophy beginning on Wednesday with a free entry match between the Central Stags and Otago Volts at Nelson's Saxton Oval, while Northern Districts will head to Eden Park Outer Oval to meet the Aces next.
The Central Stags will take a 230-run second innings lead into the third day of action at Eden Park Outer Oval after having routed their hosts for 184 inside 66 overs.
While three Stags wickets later in the afternoon lifted the Auckland Aces' spirits, the early leaders from Central remain in the box seat as they hunt their second outright victory on the bounce.
Having grabbed the maximum eight bonus points from the first innings, the Stags will also be keen to sew up a victory for a full 20-pointer.
Wickets were shared around the Stags attack, with pacemen Seth Rance (3-41) and Adam Milne (3-30) making key early breakthroughs that had the Aucklanders reeling at 43 for three.
The Aces' number four Robbie O'Donnell was the top-scorer with just 36, and departed with head in hands after playing on against a fizzed Ryan McCone at 71/4.
Keeper Dane Cleaver couldn't stay out of the game with four catches behind the stumps, including a spectacular second chance grab that bounced out of his slip's hands.
The first-innings centurion is now batting for the second time in the match and will resume day three on 9* with the visitors 54 for three and Raja Sandhu, Danru Ferns and Will Somerville sitting on a wicket apiece.
Visiting captain Greg Hay has yet to win a toss with the skipper's armband and, while his side is coming off a convincing win in the first round regardless, as an opening batsman he'll no doubt be hoping to avoid being sent in too many times this season.
Hay brought a squad with two changes to Auckland, BLACKCAP Adam Milne and Josh Clarkson (the 21-year-old better known as a white-ball pinch hitter) coming in for Ross Taylor and Navin Patel. Clarkson ultimately carried the drinks against an Aces XI that had brought in Raja Sandhu for young left-armer Ben Lister. BLACKCAPS star Martin Guptill had been slated to play for them, too, but was ruled out for four to six weeks during the match prep with a left calf strain.
The Aces are hunting their first win in their first home match of the summer and got some useful breakthroughs in the opening session, Sandhu striking with his first delivery to remove Ben Smith (15) at 33 for one, and Danru Ferns crucially stopping Hay when the veteran opener (33) appeared to be settling in on a deck that sported a green covering on a cool and overcast morning.
Former Aucklander and first drop Brad Schmulian carried on to a bright half century before lunch, but his loss before the break brought together a new pair fresh at the crease in Willem Ludick and Dane Cleaver, the Stags resuming at 116 for three in the middle session.
Cleaver wasted little time in launching into his third half century in a row, three sixes setting the tone for an adventurous middle session in breezy conditions. He and Ludick punished Sean Solia to post the Stags' 200, still only the three wickets down to level up the bonus points tally. Ludick then pumped Somerville (who would ultimately shoulder a marathon 30 overs on the unforgiving ground) for twin sixes to register the 100-partnership for the fourth wicket in 158 balls.
Ludick raced to his own half century off 74 balls before going after Danru Ferns, however the pull shot went straight to a delighted Sandhu to end the lively fourth partnership at 120. However, the dangerous stream of allrounders kept coming with Doug Bracewell joining Cleaver, on 70*, and getting underway with a six of his own to take the day one tea score to 239 for four.
But first ball after tea Bracewell would be the next wicket as Aces keeper Ben Horne sprawled in front of slips to collect the edge that gave Sandhu his second wicket. Cleaver was now joined by youngster Christian Leopard at 239/5 and the pair pressed on to the second batting bonus.
Cleaver was a picture of determination as he waited for the right moment to post his fourth first-class century, finding the boundary off Solia to hoist his ton off 157 balls, after almost 200 minutes (10 boundaries, three sixes). A 50-stand with Leopard quickly ensued, as did the third bonus point as 300 went up on the board courtesy of Cleaver's fifth six.
A Matty McEwan double strike shortly afterwards brought about the demise of both Cleaver (117) and Leopard, and gave his side a third bowling bonus. Now the Aces needed to keep mowing them down quickly to stop the Stags from netting the full four batting points, but Adam Milne and Ryan McCone had other ideas as McCone guided the ball to the fence for the Stags' 350 in the 90th over.
A couple of late breakthroughs gave the home side full points of their own, however, the wickets shared as the Stags went to stumps nine down with 359 on the board, Milne unbeaten on 28*.
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