At Eden Park Outer Oval, Auckland
A crucial half century from Auckland Aces keeper-batsman Ben Horne brought the Aces back into the game before the hosts declared on the final morning at Eden Park Outer Oval, having added 55 runs for the loss of two wickets to their overnight total.
Unbeaten on 55*, Horne had ensured his side reached 189 for nine as captain O'Donnell called them in after the first hour, setting defending champions the Stags a target of 231, on a sluggish batting surface that hadn't been easy to score on throughout the match.
Horne (above) wasn't done making an impact - diving a long way to his right to send George Worker back to the pavilion off Matt McEwan.
With fellow Stags opener Greg Hay already having misjudged Kyle Jamieson's line as the ball jagged back to clip his off-stump, it left Ben Smith and Ross Taylor both yet to get off the mark, and the Stags at a tense 20 for two.
The pair steered the visitors through to the lunch break at 45 for two, a shower arriving just as the players strolled off a wintry park.
A prize wicket for Sean Solia early in the middle session swung the pendulum right back towards the hosts, Taylor given caught behind on 18 with the Stags still needing 175.
Smith was run out by a sharp Martin Guptill soon afterwards, a classy side-on throw against a quick single, Smith gone by a whisker. The umpire had had a blinder on the call and it put the Aces back on top at 63/4.
Tension remained in the air all the way through to the tea break, but by then an 88-run stand between Brad Schmulian and Dane Cleaver for the fourth wicket had helped yank the pendulum back towards the Stags.
Normal #PLUNKETSHIELD service resumes from DANE CLEAVER, nice way to being up an important 50. Job not done yet though & we've just lost BRAD SCHMULIAN at 151/5 after an 88-run stand. 80 to win. #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) October 24, 2019
A fighting 50 from Cleaver was delivered with a couple of lusty blows to the rope, the pair ticking off the 150 - just 81 further runs required, now - before Sean Solia struck again in the next over, sending Schmulian back to the sheds for 32 with a slower ball right on the stroke of tea.
It was a dogfight all day. Nothing for the spinners despite long cracks in the deck, a chill wind, ashy clouds, the Sky Convention Centre still smoking in the distance. Hard labour for batsmen and pacemen alike. Little moments of luck, or the lack of it, made the difference.
By 5pm the Aces had closed in on the tail and sewn up their first Plunket Shield victory against the Stags in several years.
Kyle Jamieson had claimed the key wicket of Dane Cleaver, who was rapped on the pads after his patiently grafted 72.
No recognised batsmen remaining, the hard-working bustler Matt McEwan then changed ends to wrap up the tail - and his 150th first-class wicket, to go with his 1000th run earlier in the match.
McEwan finished with 4-39 for his toil while Horne had a memorable match with eight catches all up to go with his pivotal innings.
The Central Stags now head to Bay Oval to look for their first win of the season in another tough match-up against Northern Districts, while the Aces will meet the Volts in Dunedin next week hoping for two on the bounce.
The Central Stags returned serve with a vengeance at Eden Park Outer Oval, taking just 8.3 overs to rip out the Auckland Aces first four wickets of the second innings on a blustery third afternoon.
Bowling round the wicket to the left-handers with the pesky wind behind him, Seth Rance raced to 3-17, quickly atoning for a first-ball footwork error that had seen Jeet Raval's off stump dislodged.
Now he had Martin Guptill, Raval and Sean Solia all legitimately back in the tent while left-armer Ben Wheeler had meanwhile enticed a catch from Glenn Phillips to have the hosts 25 for four with a meagre lead.
By tea, the Aces were right back on the back foot after Willem Ludick had trapped captain Robbie O'Donnell just before the break to have them in tatters at 47/5 - a lead of just 88 for the hosts.
It was an abrupt change of mood for the Aucklanders who had just run off the park themselves, having dismissed the Stags for 169 - a first-innings deficit of 41 runs.
After another weather-delayed start and an early lunch, Brad Schmulian - the man who scored a New Zealand record double century on debut two seasons ago - had been left stranded on 74 after almost four hours of resistance with the bat.
The Aces attack had put their back into their work in the conditions, but it took a calamity to obtain the final wicket with number 11 Blair Tickner producing a straight drive only to knock over the stumps at the non-striker's end.
By the time bowler Matt McEwan (4-51) had pounced on the ball and fired it back to the keeper, Tickner had joined Schmulian at the scene of the collapsed castle, run out after almost half an hour's stand for the final wicket.
After the Aces' disastrous start to their second innings, Mark Chapman and Ben Horne began to graft a sixth-wicket partnership in the late afternoon to try to grow a workable lead.
After seeing off Seth Rance who continued to be challenging around the wicket, they had Ajaz Patel and Blair Tickner to contend with. A big appeal had just been turned down off Tickner against Chapman on 31, but the next ball left no room for doubt, Chapman playing on at 72 for 6.
Kyle Jamieson made a confident start, driving Patel for six early doors before getting his team's 100 on the board with 18 overs remaining in the day. His stay would prove short, however, leaving Horne and Will Somerville to hold the fort until stumps, by which time the Aces' lead had stretched to 172 thanks largely to the wicketkeeper-batsman's vigilant 39*.
Close of play: Central Stags all out 169 (68.3 overs), Auckland Aces 134/7 (63 overs)
Bonus points (completed): Stags 4 bowling, Aces 1 batting, Aces 4 bowling, Stags 0 batting
After a shower-delayed start in windy conditions, the Stags set about wrapping up the last of the Aces' innings. They quickly nabbed two tailend wickets to net the maximum four bowling bonus points, pace youngster Willem Ludick producing wicket maidens to remove both Kyle Jamieson and Matt McEwan in the first hour.
McEwan's three runs had been enough to push him past the long-awaited 1000 first-class career milestone that had been hovering in the ether since last season. However, at 199/9, the Aces' last pair of Will Somerville and Jamie Brown still had the important task of finding one more run to secure the first Aces batting bonus.
They duly did so, but their resistance was quashed shortly afterwards as Ben Wheeler finally picked up a wicket - to dismiss the Aces for 210.
The Stags promptly lost an early wicket in reply, George Worker becoming Kyle Jamieson's maiden victim for his new side the Aces; and another shortly after lunch as Ben Smith departed caught behind off Matt McEwan to usher in Ross Taylor at 36 for two.
By the then the pattern of the afternoon had begun to appeasr, balls flying over the helmets and into the ribs and gloves.
McEwan (3-40) struck again in the same over to remove captain Greg Hay, clipping his off stump on 19 for the first bowling bonus.
Then followed a major blow to the champions with the loss of Ross Taylor on 2. Three wickets in 11 balls, and a feather in the dark blue cap for Jamie Brown who picked up Taylor, Guptill scooping up the catch at second slip.
The Stags urgently needed a partnership and, by tea they were still working on it at 104 for five. Brown meanwhile had dislodged Dane Cleaver at 88/5 to break a 47-run stand with the mercurial Brad Schmulian.
Cleaver has had successes in the past with the bat at Eden Park Outer Oval, but after fencing his way through 81 minutes of pressure for 25 runs, he was bowled in the most unfortunate manner - the ball popping up off his body and landing on the wicket.
Schmulian ducked, dodged and weaved, and by tea his 30* represented a start. He'd just had a let-off on 29, Mark Chapman grassing an edge off spinner Will Somerville.
The pair had been subjected to a persistent short-pitched spell from the tall Jamieson before the introduction of Brown (2-23) and Somerville (2-25) kept the pressure on.
Ludick now took over responsibilities with Schmulian in the middle, as the last recognised batsman in the side and the Stags still trailing by 106.
But the hosts were firmly on the ascendant with the ball, sustaining good pressure throughout the afternoon.
When rain returned shortly before 6pm (17 overs remaining in an extended day), the Stags were on the back foot at 144 for eight, trailing on the first innings by 66.
It was the same figure that Schmulian found himself sitting on as the weather closed in, play abandoned for the day shortly afterwards.
Bonus points (progress): Stags 4 bowling, Aces 1 batting, Aces 3 bowling
Close of play: Auckland Aces 185/7 first innings
Blair Tickner's 100th first-class wicket was just the start of his good afternoon at Eden Park. Tickner walked off the park with 3-46 - including the key wicket of a patient Martin Guptill, all three of his victims caught behind on a stop-startish, blustery first day in Auckland.
By the time a heavy shower interrupted the final session and brought a premature finish, the injury-hit defending champions had the hosts 185 for seven.
Guptill and first drop Glenn Phillips had steadied the ship for the Auckland Aces after Seth Rance (2-35) made the opening breakthrough bowling BLACKCAP Jeet Raval in just the seventh over.
The contrasting pair put on 82 for the second wicket with Phillips getting off the mark with a six over deep square first ball. It set the tone for an aggressive half century with some powerful strokes (51 off 79, 8 x 4, 1 x 6) before Rance struck again after lunch.
Guptill would lose another two partners in the following handful of overs, Tickner zeroing in on Mark Chapman for his 100th wicket before adding Sean Solia, both edging behind.
Guptill was looking serenely ominous, however, until another diving catch from the keeper ended his occupation on 69, after more than four hours at the crease.
Willem Ludick and spinner Ajaz Patel added a further wicket apiece while left-armer Ben Wheeler bowled well for no reward, the Aces to begin day two at 185 for seven, with two men new at the crease including Kyle Jamieson (ex-Canterbury) on Aces debut.
All the legends here today for the start of our new season. Weâ€™re delighted to introduce our Assistant Coach for the first 3 rounds Craig McMillan @cmacca10 🔰 #PLUNKETSHIELD #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌 pic.twitter.com/sDvMmiGXLD— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) October 20, 2019
Former BLACKCAPS batting coach Craig McMillan has joined the Central Stags as assistant coach for the first three rounds of Plunket Shield this season. Entry to all Plunket Shield cricket is free admission.