Daryl MItchell stood in as ND captain. Photosport.nz

Northern Districts Stay Tops

DAY FOUR

Northern Districts 295/7 (Henry Cooper 34, Bharat Popli 60, Ish Sodhi 33, Nick Kelly career best 56 not out, Scott Kuggeleijn 37) drew with Central Stags on 25 November 2016 at Nelson Park, Napier

After dictating terms on their home turf, a hard-fought final day saw the Central Stags ultimately wondering just what they had to do to get on the board this summer.

They had been stopped at the final hurdle by a determined Northern Districts unit that banded together in the last innings, then successfully ‘shut down the shop’ in the last session to stave off defeat — despite missing their top trio of batsmen.

Video scorecard

Add to that the fact that they were chasing a daunting 450, that ND held out for their draw at seven down was fairly remarkable — and this despite a late strike by golden arm Tom Bruce lifting the hosts’ hopes one last time.

To be fair, the Stags’ attacl, too, had been hit by the loss of Doug Bracewell mid-match to the BLACKCAPS, but they had an experienced frontliner to call upon as a replacement in the form of Seth Rance.

Northern, by contrast, were a young brigade. Yet Nick Kelly had led the digging in with a career-best unbeaten 56 in almost five hours, his maiden first-class half century coming from 216 balls — a resilient innings from a player better known for his free-scoring white ball heroics.

Earlier, the elegant Bharat Popli (60) had top-scored for the visitors with — finally —  his first half century of the season, as last summer’s prodigious batsman of the year broke a troubling run drought, and against a spirited attack.

It turned out to be a timely and important hand as everyone from debutant Henry Cooper (30) to nightwatchman Ish Sodhi (33) chipped in and, more importantly, occupied the crease, one after another. By the late afternoon, Northern had lost their last recognised rearguard exponents in keeper-batsman Tim Seifert — caught off Ben Wheeler for 29, and allrounder Scott Kuggeleijn — Bruce’s breakthrough, another customary free-scorer who showed another side of his game before he was caught, after nearly two hours, on 27.

The wickets were shared amongst the Stags, spinner Ajaz Patel picking up just the one second-innings strike after his first innings five-for, ending the first half of the first-class season with 25 wickets, just one behind the Aces’ Tarun Nethula. Both have netted three five-fors already this season, Patel, however, with one fewer opportunity after the decision to scrap the fourth round clash at the Basin Reserve.

The Stags have been awarded six points from that earthquake-driven abandonment and, although they remain one of the only two sides yet to garner a win, they can take a sliver of consolation at being fifth on the table — ahead, at least, of the luckless Volts.

POINTS AFTER 5 ROUNDS
ND — 52
Canterbury — 49
Wellington Firebirds — 47
Auckland Aces — 41
Central Stags — 28
Otago Volts — 23

The New Zealand domestic season now switches to white ball mode — McDonald’s Super Smash followed by the one-day Ford Trophy — until the battle for the Plunket Shield resumes on 25 February 2017.

DAY THREE

Northern Districts 105/2 (Bharat Popli 43*) in the second innings trail the Central Stags 377/5 declared (Tom Bruce 115, Dane Cleaver 108 not out) by 345 runs on Thursday, 24 November 2016 at Nelson Park, Napier

It was turning into a game of two halves for the players at Nelson Park after the Hawke’s Bay heat made batting conditions more pleasing second time around.

Home side the Stags were the ones to profit, their dangerous batting line-up seizing full advantage against a weakened Northern side that was steadily dropping from the frame.

Scorecard

The Stags had resumed the day with a lead of 170, and by the end of their innings — declared after tea, it had swollen to 450. Two key figures were responsible, and in the process they built a record partnership between the teams for the fourth wicket.

Tom Bruce became the second man of the afternoon to punch up a century with a six — after Chad Bowes in Rangiora — clocking his third first-class century by rather deftly guiding the ball over third man, to BLACKCAP Ish Sodhi’s frustration.

Although Bruce’s 117-ball hundred was typically quick — containing nine boundaries and three sixes, Bruce and Cleaver again showed that their batting smarts went beyond simply bashing brutal boundaries.

Having belted their 100-stand for the fourth wicket off only 136 balls as the deck flattened out, they had the luxury of shifting the swashbuckling mode down a gear — the lead grown to the point where they could afford to tick over ones and twos for a period on the way to reaching their respective three-figure milestones.

But it probably wouldn’t be a Tom Bruce special at Nelson Park if he didn’t bust out the panache, and as the six secured his century, the Stags were already well on top at 321/3 with a lead of 393.

Bruce would finally be caught on 115, replaced at the crease by Jesse Ryder before the game keeper-batsman Cleaver reached his own third first-class century — and second in the space of three matches this season — off 121 balls (seven fours, two sixes).

The century-smashing pair’s new fourth wicket record agaist Northern Districts ended at 176 — beating the 164 that Bruce himself had set with his captain Will Young at Cobham Oval, Whangarei, two seasons ago.

Cleaver was still going at tea, the Stags 360/5. Young saw no reason to halt the fun despite the new ball having been taken shortly before the break, and the Stags powered on to their lead of exactly 450 before he declared at 377/5 in 86 entertaining overs. Cleaver would end up unbeaten on 108

Not even losing Doug Bracewell to the BLACKCAPS — he became the second player to be replaced in this match following the pre-Test injury today to Trent Boult — could dent the Stags’ confidence that they might finally have the chance to nail an outright. Bracewell has been replaced by Seth Rance, who opened the second innings attack in the afternoon alongside Ben Wheeler, promptly removing Joe Carter.

Debutant Henry Cooper would be caught behind for 34 late in the day's play, Ish Sodhi is in as nightwatchman for the second time in the match. Bharat Popli meanwhile had reached his highest score this season with 43*, last season’s batsman of the summer looking to break his run drought.

Northern will need 345 runs on the final day to stop the Stags from roaring.

DAY TWO

Central Stags 98/0 in the second innings (Ben Smith 60*, Greg Hay 35*) lead Northern Districts 153 all out (Tim Seifert 35; Ajaz Patel 5-22) by 170 runs on 23 November 2016 at Nelson Park, Napier

First innings batting bonus points, Stags 1, Northern 0 (completed)
First innings bowling bonus points, Northern 4, Stags 4 (completed)

Central Stags off-spinner Ajaz Patel continued his barnstorming ways with his third Plunket Shield five-wicket bag this season — his third in five innings, indeed, and his eighth overall in his burgeoning career.

Video scorecard

Patel wrapped up the Northern innings by dismissing the 11th batsmen — yes, 11th — after Northland's Henry Cooper, the 23-year-old son of former Northern Districts captain Barry Cooper, made his first-class debut as a replacement for captain Dean Brownlie, who had left the match after day one to head to the BLACKCAPS Test camp as cover.

Cooper batted at four on debut after Brownlie technically retired not out, but would fall victim to Ben Wheeler in single figures.  

After Blair Tickner paved the way by continuing Bharat Popli’s misery this season and removing Nick Kelly for single figures as well, Northern sank into a hole that was only excavated further as Patel began chopping through the late order.

Patel's fifth wicket was a scoreless Tony Goodin, ending the Northern innings on 153 to hand Central a 72-run first innings lead.

By stumps, that lead had grown by almost another 100 runs, the normally prodigious opener Ben Smith finally breaking his horror run of single figures this season to be unbeaten on 60 overnight, the Stags 98 for no loss in the second innings on a day during which November temperatures soared to 30 degrees in Hawke’s Bay.

The result is that the Stags have a good chance to claim their first win of the 2016/17 competition against the struggling Northerners, the competition leaders at present, who were led by Daryl Mitchell in Brownlie’s absence to make it four captains in the space of five matche

DAY ONE

Northern Districts 24/1 in the first innings. Earlier: Central Stags 225 all out (Will Young 61, Dane Cleaver 31, Ryan McCone career-best 32; Brett Hampton 3-36, Daryl Mitchell 3-54) on Tuesday 22 November at Nelson Park, Napier

First innings batting bonus points, Stags 1 (completed), Northern 0 (in progress)
First innings bowling bonus points, Northern 4 (maximum achieved), Stags 0 (in progress)

Video scorecard

Winning the toss and top-scoring on your birthday is nice, but for 24-year-old Stags captain Will Young it wasn’t quite the present he was after. Young’s 61 stood out in a busy first day that saw his side all out for 225 in the last session — helped along by a late rally from wicketkeeper-batsman Dane Cleaver (31) and Ryan McCone (who found a career-best 32) in a much-desired 54-run stand for the eight wicket.

In a rare Plunket Shield appearance for ND, Bay of Plenty white-ball allrounder Brett Hampton had stepped in to lead the injury-depleted visitors, striking early to remove opener Ben Smith for no score and gathering pace to end the day with a handy 3-36.

Stepping up as more than a part-timer with the ball, Daryl Mitchell also helped put the brakes on a talented Stags line-up, which featured Jesse Ryder (24) gaining first Plunket Shield cap for his original team since 2003, and his first Plunket Shield match for any side since March 2015.

Mitchell took 3-54 in the middle and lower order while leg-spinner Ish Sodhi chimed in with the key wicket of his former NZ Under-19s captain Will Young amid his two-for.

The Stags were all out in 78.3 overs, Northern left to navigate the last nine overs of the day — but McCone got rid of Joe Carter before the umpires called time, Sodhi brought in as nightwatchman as they went to bed at 24/1. The Stags will look to make the most of their opportunity against a reshuffled Northern line-up — onto their third skipper in Dean Brownlie, and likely to require another before the match is through, after the loss of both Daniel Flynn and now Anton Devcich to injuries. Northland youngster Henry Cooper has come into the side on debut.

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