NORTHERN DISTRICTS v CENTRAL STAGS
At Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui
30 October - 2 November 2019
TOSS: ND who elected to bowl
Result: CENTRAL STAGS defeated Northern Districts by 74 runs
On the final day at Bay Oval where the depleted Central Stags needed eight wickets, with a nightwatchman at the crease, Northern Districts needed 286 further runs on a flat deck in sunny conditions for an outright win.
And, for the bulk of the first two sessions, the hosts looked every inch like they were on course for the chocolates.
ND made a solid, patient start, and kept on going in the warm conditions, snatching away the Stags' tenuous advantage as they added 104 runs in an excellent first session for the loss of only one wicket - nightwatchman Jimmy Baker falling to Seth Rance's second ball of his first spell of the morning.
By lunch, locals Bharat Popli and Joe Carter had each picked their way past half centuries, sharing an 87*-run stand for the fourth wicket.
With Popli 60* and Carter 55* at the interval; the odds were in ND's favour. Grassed chances in the middle session and a catch that slid through even the tall Jarrod Mckay's hands on the boundary only made the Stags' job harder.
Meanwhile, the remaining match in the round had been abandoned in Dunedin without a ball bowled: a big chance, here, now, to leap up the table. Carter and Popli began to pick up their pace, Carter laying into some sizzling hook shots as the attack looked to bowl as his gloves.
Just as it looked as if ND would cruise home, two wickets in the half hour before tea got the Stags back in the hunt - and with Carter already having departed to golden arm spinner George Worker on 55.
Now, just as Popli had been looking a dead set cert for a century, with BJ Watling for capable support, Willem Ludick broke their fast-growing stand, sending Popli trudging back caught behind on 87, after more than five hours having watchfully anchored the ND chase.
You beauty WILLEM LUDICK! WICKET! The anchorman Popli departs caught behind: we have ND 5 down, we need 5 more wickets, they need 115 more runs, 41 overs remaining at Bay oval #PlunketShield #thriller #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) November 2, 2019
📷 @MargotButcher pic.twitter.com/FZhaXKD8BJ
It was the wicket that turned the match. Coming on for an over before tea, leggie Brad Schmulian then made it six down, the Stags elated to dismiss Peter Bocock cheaply.
With the taut final day boiling down to the last session - four wickets versus 93 runs - they were even more ecstatic when Schmulian struck again quickly after the break, taking the big wicket of BJ Watling: 284 for seven, 90 runs still required. Nailbiter.
The tail was exposed, albeit a tail with BLACKCAPS Trent Boult and Neil Wagner strapping on the pads.
But the wickets kept falling, Boult departing cheaply this time around as Ajaz Patel claimed his second, and Schmulian getting last man Wagner to play on. ND had been dismissed for 299 to cement a dramatic late fightback with the ball.
The outright sent the defending champions from second-to-last to second on the table in the process, and sets up an intriguing first home clash with Canterbury at Saxton Oval, Nelson next week. Meanwhile, ND will head to Dunedin hoping the Bay of Plenty weather will follow them.
Part-timer Schmulian finished with a career-best four for 34, the Stags star of the afternoon in an injury-afflicted squad with two pace debutants that was desperate to avoid a third loss on the bounce.
Close of play: Central Stags 204 all out second innings, ND 88/2 chasing 374
On another fine morning at Bay Oval, Central Stags captain Greg Hay decided not to enforce the follow on and instead looked to build on his side's 169-run first-innings lead.
With a cool southwesterly change in the air, Trent Boult struck early for the hosts, however, removing first-innings centurion George Worker at 4/1 in his second over of the day - Bharat Popli relieved to gobble up the juggled catch.
Just three overs later, Hay himself was returning to the pavilion, caught off the gloves against Brett Randell at 20/2. First drop Ben Smith soldiered on, however, to post his half century and a 50-stand with Tom Bruce, extending the Stags' lead past 250.
With the occasional ball rearing up, the reintroduction of Boult delivered a wicket, Smith caught on 52, then Bruce was struck in tbe back of the helmet by Neil Wagner on 30*.
After a lengthy break and helmet change, Bruce batted on with new man Dane Cleaver looking to settle things down before the close of the session, and reached his second half century in the match.
That is FIVE for @NeilWagner13 at Bay Oval for @ndcricket. 5-62 with the @CentralStags out for 204 but a lead of 373. ND back with the bat after Tea. VIDEO scorecard | https://t.co/IDMOl3dIKQ #PlunketShield pic.twitter.com/OKRNXQ2BpU— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) November 1, 2019
By tea, the innings was over, the Stags all out for 204 in their second dig. Neil Wagner (5-62) had ripped through the back of the order for a five-wicket bag as Boult finished with four for 68, setting ND a target of 374 from 138 overs in four sessions.
All out for 204 in the second dig at tea, we have set ND a target of 374 in the last four sessions of the match. AJAZ PATEL 33 not out in his 50th cap game & looking forward to another bowl 👍🏾#plunketshield #lovethestags 🦌 pic.twitter.com/BQyB5MWxVv— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) November 1, 2019
ND started their final innings patiently, but lost two wickets in the last session - and were lucky to avoid a third when nightwatchman Jimmy Baker was dropped by the keeper just as Henry Cooper was sitting down in the dressing room, caught off leg-spinner Brad Schmulian at 87/2.
Earlier, debutant Jarrod McKay had his second first-class wicket, yorking ND skipper Daniel Flynn on 19.
ND will require a further 286 runs on the final day tomorrow if they are to chalk one up over their neighbours.
Close of play: ND 202 all out, trailing by 169 on the first innings
Bonus Points: Central Stags 4 batting, ND 2 bowling (completed), Central Stags 4 bowling, ND 1 batting (in progress)
An action-packed day saw the Stags strengthen their position by the midpoint of the game, despite a tailend fightback from ND in the final session.
Earlier in the day, Northern Districts had wrapped up the Central Stags innings for 371, Tom Bruce left stranded on 71* (93 balls, 7 x 4, 2 x 6) in his first bat of the season.
Trent Boult had made an early breakthrough on a flat second day deck with the wicket of Willem Ludick. Neil Wagner then attacked the tail with Jimmy Baker (2-65), the latter accounting for both Ajaz Patel and Rance cheaply, to expose the Stags' pair of young debutant pace bowlers at the end of the order.
Big 22-year-old Ray Toole quickly got over a jumpy start - taking off for a run only to be sent scrambling back by Bruce, the young man surviving 22 balls while tickling his first three first-class runs off Wagner.
Wagner had the final say, however, to finish with 3-104, after nearly four sessions of hard yakka, the deck only flattening more in the warm conditions.
With time left time for seven overs before lunch, the innings turnaround played into the hands of the Stags' pace attack, strapping left-armer Toole opening the bowling with Seth Rance and making a good first impression - two maidens and just four runs off his first three overs of Plunket Shield before the break.
Rance meanwhile quickly struck back at ND to have them 11/1 in reply before lunch.
The middle session was a brilliant one for the Stags. They claimed five further wickets, with Toole taking a memorable maiden wicket in BLACKCAP BJ Watling who edged behind shortly before tea at the beginning of his 10th over.
By then ND was in all sorts at 73/5 - before the youngster struck again to have 2-24 off 11.1 at tea.
Moreover, Northern Districts was now in serious danger of following on, six down for just 86 runs and still 285 runs behind their visitors.
Toole has very nearly picked up two in an over when Peter Bocock was put down in the slips shortly after the big loss of Watling, and it was one of a rash of handling errors from the Stags.
Toole soon had Bocock regardless, caught behind on 17. It was third time unlucky for Bocock who had not long before narrowly survived an inside edge off Ajaz Patel that danced perilously close to his stumps.
Yesterday's wind having mercifully diminished to a gentle breeze, Joe Walker and Brett Randell faced a big job as they began the final session, but catches were sticking for the Stags' other youngster on debut, Jarrod McKay.
In the middle session he'd shaken off his nerves by getting himself in the game - getting under a high ball pulled by ND captain Daniel Flynn off Willem Ludick.
The six-foot-five-inch teenager (above) again outdid himself in the last session by leaping at full stretch at backward point to pluck, with his left hand, a catch out of the air to dismiss Joe Walker off a thrilled Ajaz Patel.
Brilliance from JARROD MCKAY! Our 6ft5" debutant leaps to pluck the ball out of the air with his left hand at backward point - his second grab today & ND is 126/7, 235 behind, Joe Walker departing caught. AJAZ PATEL has two! #lookatthereaction #PlunketShield #LOVETHESTAGS— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) October 31, 2019
The very next over, Seth Rance claimed his third in Neil Wagner, and ND had one foot on the precipice at 127 for eight.
A stubborn 75-run eighth-wicket stand between Brett Randell and Trent Boult (44 off 56) proved a huge bonus for the hosts. Randell, the side's unlikely hero to date in the match, continued his career-best all-round game with a maiden half century, top-scoring while the flamboyant Boult eked out runs in his inimitable style with a useful quick 44.
With just two overs remaining in the day, they would fall in the space of three balls - Boult providing McKay with a hard-earned maiden first-class wicket while Randall was caught on 56 off the first ball of Ludick's next over to end a dig of two halves in 69.1 overs.
The Stags had collected the maximum eight bonus points en route, while ND's tailend rescue party had managed to squeak a first batting bonus for the hosts.
Close of play: Central Stags 304/5
Bonus Points (in progress): Central Stags 3 batting, ND 2 bowling
Despite having been sent in, defending Plunket Shield champions the Central Stags made a solid start at Bay Oval, looking to rebound quickly from their shock loss to the Aces in the opening round.
With two debutant pace bowlers included in the injury-hit XI, the Stags needed a good start from their experienced core, and they got it courtesy of their opening duo, captain Greg Hay and centurion George Worker reaching lunch on a fine but blustery day for no loss.
The pair was 31* and 43* respectively at the break after patiently seeing off the challenging ND opening attack in a gently paced, patient first session.
ND, who had seven changes of their own after losing some of their BLACKCAPS to the impending T20s against England, finally broke through after lunch, Neil Wagner removing Hay at 87/1, but Worker was in for a long day's work as he navigated his way through 77.1 overs of the first day.
The left-hander continued on throughout the session, Brad Schmulian assisting him in a 151-stand for the fourth wicket. Just when it looked like ND's pace attack would be having a fairly long, fruitless afternoon in the dirt and dust, however, the pair fell in quick succession - both to Brett Randell - in the final session.
Schmulian, who had scored his record double century on first-class debut at this same ground two years earlier, had made a frenetic start to his innings, hooking ND's stellar attack - which included Trent Boult - early, before settling down to pick his way to 60 off 111 balls.
Worker meanwhile produced an impressive knock that balanced bloody-minded doggedness with his dashing drives and cut shots, wearing down the ND pace attack that had the added irritation of a nagging cross-wind to deal with.
He brought up his ninth first-class century (seventh for the Stags) off 211 balls, in 271 minutes, with his 13th boundary driven for the bat raise, and a six.
The Stags lost a further wicket in Dane Cleaver before stumps, right-armer Randell finishing the day as ND's most successful bowler with 3-45, plus the quick runout of Smith, by his name in his eighth appearance.
Earlier, the injury-hit Stags named left-armer Ray Toole - celebrating his 22nd birthday - and 19-year-old Jarrod Mckay in the XI for the first time, the young pair spending their first day of first-class cricket enjoying proceedings from the viewing room.