Central Districts defeated Northern Districts by eight wickets with 6 balls to spare
McLean Park, Napier
22-25 February 2020
Bonus Points (completed): Central Stags 8 - maximum achieved, Northern Districts 4
Points this round: Stags 20, Northern Districts 4
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Despite a defiant rearguard half century from Ish Sodhi as embattled ND tried to prevent the Central Stags from batting again, an astounding finish saw the defending champions eventually claim his wicket - then smash 73 off just seven overs to reclaim a slender lead on the Plunket Shield points table.
Dane Cleaver, Will Young and Tom Bruce would step up the order to form a red-ball T20 line-up in a race against the clock to win an outstanding game of cricket between the two determined sides.
The day had begun with the Stags needing to break a stand at the opposite end of the ND order, and they needed to do it early. Bharat Popli - one of the select few to have scored 1000 first-class runs in a New Zealand season, in another dry summer a few years back - is well regarded for his patience at the crease.
Having resumed with captain Joe Carter on 20* and 7* respectively, the anchorman had a classic role to play if he was to secure ND’s position.
The pair reached a 50-stand for the third, but Willem Ludick was about to fire up and claim them both off consecutive overs to have the HMS ND listing at 107 for four.
Northern still trailed by 104 in their second dig at this stage and, when an elated Brad Schmulian had fellow spinner Mitch Santner caught cheaply before lunch, the door was ajar to ram home a possible outright. News had already filtered through that Canterbury had beaten the Firebirds in Rangiora, meaning the Stags could now snatch the lead on the points table at the midway mark of their threepeat campaign.
But the job was not yet done.
The middle session brought more wickets the way of the Stags' spin attack with leggie Schmulian claiming another two - debutant Katene Clarke and Peter Bocock, before Tom Bruce made it three before tea to have the visitors eight down.
WICKET! ND is 6 down still needing 46 runs to make us bat again. BRAD SCHMULIAN has run to Hastings and back after dimissing debutant Katene Clarke.#PlunketShield | #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌 pic.twitter.com/EHLxmEtwZI— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) February 25, 2020
WICKET! ND is 174/7 still needing 27 runs to make us bat again. This time BRAD SCHMULIAN has danced the Hokey Pokey with quite some aplomb after dismissing Peter Bocock.#PlunketShield | #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌 pic.twitter.com/fhyrjan89k— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) February 25, 2020
Bruce had only just entered the attack when Scott Kuggeleijn - looking to slap on some runs under urgency with Sodhi - smacked him out of the park for his third six to inch ND into a five-run lead.
The very next ball, Young safely pouched a low grab at slip to see his back on 33, ND 218 for eight before the new ball was taken.
The tea lead was 21, just two still in hand and the Stags in the box seat, if ND would just fall over. Blair Tickner and Ray Toole kept up the pressure after the break, Young soon active in the slip cordon once more as the Toole made it nine down with 27 overs left in the regulation hours, the ND lead still just 33.
Sodhi remained, however, battening down the hatches with last man Jimmy Baker as the scoring rate slowed to a trickle - batting time now of the essence.
One of just two active games left in the round, a similar situation was unfolding in Auckland with the Aces hunting for the Volts' last two wickets, but meeting a determined resistance - the Stags and Aces having gone into the round neck and neck on the ladder.
Baker, however, is not your standard number 11, a capable servant for ND as a regular nightwatchman and upped his hosts' frustration as he locked down with resolute Sodhi.
With 13 overs left on the clock, Sodhi reached his half century off 90 deliveries, by now more than two and a half hours in the middle. It was down to eight overs on the clock when a Blair Tickner bouncer reared up off his blade and had him caught behind. The Stags would need 73 runs in eight overs for full points.
Just look at the reaction as BLAIR TICKNER ends the ND innings! Ish Sodhi out, a fighting half ton after more than 2 & a half hours' resistance. 8 overs left on the clock, we need 73 runs for an outright & full points to go top. Buckle up!#PlunketShield | #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌 pic.twitter.com/99ArujbmgM— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) February 25, 2020
Mindful of the race against the clock, the Stags promoted their newly minted double centurion Cleaver to open with George Worker and the pair was into their work immediately with seven off Santner's first over.
Worker fell quickly to Kuggeleijn for the second time in the match off the paceman's first delivery next over, but as Young joined Cleaver the new opener swatted a six and boundary to help take 14 from it, the Stags now needing 52 from 30 balls in a red-ball T20 - or T8, as the case unfolded.
Cleaver did it again next over off Santner: 12 from it. And so it kept going, the Stags effectively employing their T20 batting order to wait for the right line, step outside their crease pick off a six every over until Tom Bruce and Will Young found themselves needing just a run a ball off the last two overs.
A boundary from Bruce as he didn't quite get hold of one, but then it was down to just six required at under run a ball.
Cleaver had done the damage with three sixes in his 18-ball 38, Young chimed in with a beauty of his own and then Bruce picked the boundary of Kuggeleijn in the second to last over of the thriller. ND's respectable attack had few options against the onslaught.
So, six required. Not a problem for Bruce at McLean Park who thumped it over the rope two balls later for a tight eight-wicket win that, with a drawn finish in Auckland, swept the defending champions back to the top midway through the championship they aimed to win for a rare three seasons in a row. The Stags now head to the Basin Reserve for a top of the table match with the Wellington Firebirds who loom just one point behind them on the ladder.
It was a brilliant all-round game from Cleaver who not only secured his first double dentury and set up the successful chase with his explosive batting, but equalled the Stags' record against ND for most dismissals in a match with nine catches and a stumping.
TOM BRUCE finds the fence off Kuggelelijn, 6 off 7 needed...& guess what he hits next ball!! 8 wkt win 🎉— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) February 25, 2020
We are back on top of the #PlunketShield table in our threepeat campaign. Cheers @ndcricket, another close & exciting battle. #LOVETHESTAGS 🦌https://t.co/IirP7MyJdP pic.twitter.com/n315i4E6mv
Sharp work from Clarke off the bowling of Santner to remove Smith (35) for the only wicket of the first session 🤲— Northern Districts (@ndcricket) February 24, 2020
The @CentralStags have moved to a first innings lead of 36 🏏
307/5 🔴 Live scorecard | https://t.co/70p48Nog2g#ndtogether #PlunketShield #cricketnation pic.twitter.com/uYPsi2LhOO
Just over three weeks ago, Dane Cleaver walked off Hagley Oval heartbroken after having missed out on his maiden first-class double century - dismissed on 196 for New Zealand A against the shadow Indian Test team. Now at the happy home hunting ground of McLean Park, he went from 189 to 201 in the space of three balls after pelting two sixes off Mitch Santner to reach the special milestone after all.
Santner had his revenge the very next ball to end the Stags' first innings at 482, the Stags taking a first-innings lead of 211.
Keeper-batsman Cleaver has enjoyed a solid summer in all formats and dominated stands of 57 for the fifth wicket with Ben Smith; 81 for the sixth with Brad Schmulian; 54 for the seventh with Willem Ludick and a remarkable 95 for the eighth with Blair Tickner, the former number 11 promoted to nine and batting for 95 minutes for his Stags career-best score of 26 (Tickner also has a 30 not out for New Zealand A).
Cleaver punished the Harris Stand boundary with 18 boundaries and 8 sixes in just under six hours at the crease, his penultimate shot putting a ding in his uncle’s car.
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The 28-year-old then put the icing on his day by gathering in two impressive catches with the gloves, running for a skier off Tickner to claim Henry Cooper early, then leaping to snaffle Tim Seifert off Rance after a start.
ND headed into the final day at an unsettled 64 for two, still trailing by 147 in the second innings.
After having dismissed a stubborn Northern Districts in the 10th over of the morning, Stags captain Greg Hay and Will Young recovered from the early loss of George Worker to Scott Kuggeleijn to post twin half centuries at Napier's McLean Park.
Both will have wanted more, forced by ND to settle for 68 and 69 respectively.
Young's was the sole wicket of the middle session when he was given lbw, whilst Hay fell after tea at 163 for three.
Having earlier claimed Worker for no score, Kuggeleijn picked up a second very handy, cheap wicket in Tom Bruce and the Stags eventually went to stumps four down and still 75 in arrears, needing Ben Smith to kick on with Dane Cleaver for a first innings total of note.
Central Stags paceman Tickner went to stumps with a chance of bagging might have been his second first-class five-wicket-bag the next morning, after heading in with figures of 4-40 off 16 when bad light stopped play. Tickner's maiden five-wicket-bag in the Plunket Shield had come at McLean Park and he would have dearly liked a second at this juncture.
The Stags had already secured the maximum four bowling bonus points after having sent in Northern Districts, but a stubborn 88-run stand for the eighth wicket between Kuggeleijn (60) and Ish Sodhi (caught and bowled on 48 by fellow spinner Tom Bruce) saw the visitors fight back in the final session.
ND would resume day two at 238 for nine.
Competition Winner: Wellington Firebirds
|1 –||Wellington Firebirds||6||4||1||1||0||0||0||0||15||20||83||5.34|
|4||Logan van Beek||19|