CENTRAL STAGS defeated NORTHERN DISTRICTS by one wicket
McLean Park, Napier
9-12 March 2019
First innings bonus points
Bowling: Central Stags 4 (maximum achieved), Northern Districts 4 (maximum achieved)
Batting: Northern Districts 0 (completed), Central Stags 1 (completed)
Points this round: Central Stags 17, Northern Districts 4
The Central Stags claimed their second outright win at McLean Park on the bounce, but not without their hearts in their mouths as their last pair searched for the last runs against a testing Mitch Santner and Ish Sodhi.
In the end it was the number eleven batsman who squeaked them home with a day to spare, moving the team to 100 points on the ladder and now awaiting the results of the Rangiora game to find out whether the Plunket Shield title goes another round.
Lunch: The Central Stags took the last five ND wickets in the morning session, left-arm paceman Ryan McCone reaching his first five-wicket bag for the Central men, and third overall of his first-class career.
McCone (5-47) took the final wicket on the stroke of lunch, having broken through with the key wicket of Daryl Mitchell who was caught behind on 41, and his overnight partner Mitchell Santner (caught behind on 33) in the first 17 minutes of a sunny day-three morning.
From 158 for seven, Scott Kuggeleijn provided the tailend nuisance factor with his unbeaten 33*, meanwhile Seth Rance and Ajaz Patel picked up a wicket apiece to put McCone's elusive five-wicket mark for the team in doubt.
Ultimately, however, McCone would lead the team off the park for the first time, bowling last man James Baker with his haul just one run outside his career-best of 5-46 (for Canterbury in 2010/11), after having been dropped off the previous delivery.
Stags keeper Dane Cleaver meanwhile finished with five dismissals in the innings, to equal the Central first-class record against ND of eight for the match.
Making a watchful start, the Stags headed to tea requiring just a further 103 runs to win at 71 for one. George Worker was the only wicket to fall in the middle session when he was caught off Kuggeleijn by Seifert, diving in front of slip, after a patient 26 and two hours at the crease.
Hay (38* at the time; above) carried to be 44* at the break with new batsman Will Young yet to get off the mark, while ND had three spinners in action — Sodhi, Santner and Henry Cooper — early on what Ryan McCone would later describe as one of the most difficult surfaces the team had batted on all season.
Things got interesting in the 51st over when Sodhi suddenly put himself on a hat-trick, with Kieran Noema-Barnett averting the hat-trick ball. Young had already departed by then, sending a frisson of shock through the Stags' encampment.
Then Hay was gone shortly after reaching his second half century in the match. The hat-trick was on when Cleaver, one of the season's most productive batsmen, was given out caught behind first ball: from 87 for one to 95 for four in a handful of overs, although Cleaver could be judged unlucky.
The new pair of Noema-Barnett and Tom Bruce got the Stags' 100 on the board courtesy of a six from Bruce off Santner; now there were 73 runs left to find.
But with 50 runs still to get, Bruce, on 22, charged at Sodhi only to be stumped.
Things got even more intense when, after a blitz of 22 runs off just 28 balls, Noema-Barnett was caught off Kuggeleijn, the Stags now six down with 38 more runs still required and Ryan McCone, not a recognised batsman, heading out to bat.
ND knew they had a real chance now and kept hunting wickets aggressively. The match would go right to the wire, the scores tied and Sodhi already with his 14th five-wicket bag (equalling ND bowling coach Graeme Aldridge's ND record), with number eleven Blair Tickner facing.
Seth Rance had belted quick runs, his 16 including two sixes, but he had just as quickly been caught, then after six overs of intense pressure Ajaz Patel became Sodhi's fifth victim to a superb delivery that turned and jumped sharply up into his gloves.
A loss would throw the Stags' title defence into doubt. A tie would be worth six points to both sides. The Stags wanted 12, and ND wanted a win to stay alive. The players hung on every ball, in knots as the helpless watched from the sidelines.
Capable Doug Bracewell (17* off 42) was still there. After a string of wicket maidens and maiden overs suddenly he blasted a lusty six off Santner. The tension evaporated in that one stroke, but now he had to turn over the strike.
Tickner was the Stags' genuine number eleven. He had survived seven deliveries of spin: now he hit his first run, the winning single, by punching Sodhi through cover to end the nail-biter. The Stags were now firmly in the box seat for a rare defence of the championship title, but must await the result in Rangiora on day four to see what's what.
The two teams now head to Seddon Park for a rematch starting on Sunday, the final match of summer. Will it be Stags back to back or has the 2018/19 Plunket Shield got one more twist in its tail?
Defiance in the last session from Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner (below) saw ND battle through to a 63*-run stand and 106-run second-innings lead heading into "moving day" Monday, with five wickets still in hand.
At 92 for five, after having lost Dean Brownlie — caught behind off Ajaz Patel (below) straight after the tea break, things could have been much more precarious for the visitors, had their wickets continued falling like dominoes into the third session. Brownlie would be the only dismissal of the final session, however, after another eventful day's action at McLean Park.
It had begun with the Stags 142 for four in their first dig. Ish Sodhi struck first, removing Dane Cleaver about a dozen overs into the morning session, the keeper-batsman falling to a reflex grab at slip.
Things rapidly went downhill from there for the hosts with a procession of wickets for the spinners. From 175 for five, the Stags were all out for 216 — a lead of just 49 runs on the first innings.
Sodhi had spun his way to a quick four-fa while Santner picked up 3-27, and the runs hard to come by against him. After opener Greg Hay's half century the day before, the next highest score for the Stags proved to be nightwatchman Ajaz Patel's 42 as he picked the four-balls, and defended the rest, for more than an hour and a half in total.
Patel would come into his own later in the day with the ball, stopping Brownlie (above) on 20 and keeping his fellow spinners Sodhi and Santner honest through a defensive last session from the ND batsmen.
In the meantime the Central seamers had knocked the top off the ND second innings, Doug Bracewell, Ryan McCone (below) and Seth Rance having reduced them to 75 for four.
The unbroken sixth-wicket partnership proved pesky for the Stags, though, who will have one eye on Rangiora weather, knowing an outright in Napier could be enough to secure the Plunket Shield if the weather-hit Canterbury-Aces game (where there was no play possible on day two) tracks to a draw.
Daryl Mitchell (below) will resume in Napier on 41* and Santner on 30*.
No, it wasn't a green seamer. Yes, a strong Northern Districts side opted to bat first — and folded inside the first two sessions. Yes, stellar Stags first drop Will Young was listed on the team sheet, but he was in a different city altogether, yet to be released from a so-far washed out BLACKCAPS Test in Wellington where he was on standby as batting cover, and there was now doubt over his participation in either match. Nothing was as it seemed as the Stags' last home match of the summer got underway, the defending first-class champions looking to extend their 12-point leaderboard advantage against stiff opposition.
By stumps, the Stags were 142 for four, three wickets in the final session having taken the gloss off an otherwise productive day that netted them the maximum four bowling points. Among them was patient captain Greg Hay who was run out by a direct hit from Mitchell Santner shortly after Hay had reached a half century. Nightwatchman Ajaz Patel joined Dane Cleaver, the pair navigating their way to stumps at 12* and 7* respectively but with an important job ahead on day two to bat time.
Earlier, George Worker — like Hay and Young, coming off a century at this ground in the previous match, had suffered a first-baller when we was brilliantly caught by Brett Hampton just as the Stags started their reply in the middle session. It chastened the mood of the hosts who would have been delighting in having dismissed the ND line-up for just 167.
Visiting captain Dean Brownlie (back from an injury niggle), had elected to bat, on a pitch that may well provide some difficulties for the side or sides batting on the last day. The question now is whether it will go that distance. Brownlie was himself one of five victims before lunch on the first day. Change bowlers Ryan McCone (2-42) and the typically aggressive Blair Tickner (2-33) got the first batch of breakthroughs for their team before spinner Ajaz Patel came on before lunch and had Tim Seifert outfoxed and cursing an easy return catch that had ND 87 for five.
With a deep batting line-up, ND wasn't cooked that easily, and by the first break Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner had already made a start on restoring the scorebook, taking their side to 101 for five.
But just eight balls after lunch, Seth Rance got in on the wicket action by removing Santner and, when Mitchell's castle was wrecked by the dangerous Patel 14 overs later, ND was officially in a stew.
Scott Kuggeleijn attacked for a breezy 37: it would prove ND's top score after Patel (3-26) stopped him in his tracks, and that opened the door for Doug Bracewell to mop up the innings with a quick brace, Ish Sodhi and James Baker both removed in the same over for no score.
The recalled top order batsman Ben Smith (35), who had been bracketed with Young ahead of this match, helped the Stags settle down with the bat after the shock loss of Worker, putting on 68 for the second wicket with Hay (52).
Trailing by just 25 runs overnight but needing to take advantage of the first innings opportunity for a strategic advantage, the Stags will be hoping for sunshine at the Basin Reserve (the first two days of the Test having been wholly washed out) for any prospect of classy Young returning to them in time to take part in the match. The only certainty is that they will resume day two at 142 for four, Kuggeleijn sitting on two wickets.