Wellington Firebirds defeated Central Stags by nine wickets with a day to spare
Basin Reserve, Wellington
1-3 March 2020
Bonus Points: Wellington Firebirds 6, Central Stags 4
Total points this round: Wellington Firebirds 18, Central Stags 4
This season's introduction of a new style of Kookaburra, with an extra layer of lacquer and cross-stitching, saw late swing come into play at a green Basin Reserve. The Wellington Firebirds utilised it to full effect for an important victory as the Stags took a bath in the Basin. The ball will be trialled for rounds five and six only with the final two rounds to be played with the standard ball.
The Central Stags had begun what would turn out to be the final day with eight wickets in hand with their captain Greg Hay - the man who had batted throughout the first innings - having already garnered his second half century of the match the night before.
In a standard match scenario, resuming at 124 for two would have been very much even Stevens - but the Stags' first-innings capitulation would prove costly.
The Firebirds' attack knew they only needed to chip out a few wickets with the cherry to have the Stags under real pressure, with the ball continuing to duck around. Hay's defences were down early for no further addition to his 54 as Jimmy Neesham (3-65) claimed him for the second time in the match, this time caught.
Six wickets tumbled in the session in all and the Stags went to an uncomfortable lunch at 221 for eight with Brad Schmulian, at seven, the only other batsman to show some stickability.
His fidgety yet compact technique served him well as he held on for almost two and a half hours, moving from 40 at lunch to an unbeaten 68*.
However, the Firebirds were still chipping away with Jamie Gibson (3-36) adding two tailend scalps to the big wicket of Will Young the previous day.
A runout ended the Stags' faint hopes of a resistance when last man Ray Toole found himself stranded in the middle, Schmulian stranded on his 65 not out and the Firebirds now with a tame chase of 53 for the outright points.
The season's leading wicket-taker Willem Ludick collected another en route, but it was all over bar the shouting for this match asRachin Ravindra and Devon Conway walked it home for a 13-point lead over the Stags at the top of the table.
FIREBIRDS WIN! Devon Conway ticks off the winning runs and we take a crucial win by 9 wickets. Back on top of the #PlunketShield ladder! 🏏👌— Wellington Firebirds (@wgtnfirebirds) March 3, 2020
SCORECARD | https://t.co/yUeBZkyo8i#WEAREWELLINGTONâšªï¸🟡âš«ï¸ pic.twitter.com/pT1EYULK26
The two sides will meet again in the penultimate seventh round in Napier, meanwhile the Stags will head to Dunedin and the Firebirds to Auckland's Colin Maiden Park in the interim, both sides on a mission to keep scoring big points.
Last season he'd walked off the Basin Reserve with a four-for, having tried his heart out to get his elusive maiden five-wicket bag. He would go on that season to eventually claim it at McLean Park, but the memory was no doubt in Blair Tickner's mind as he claimed Neesham as his fifth victim to cement just his second first-class five-for in 36 games for the Central Stags.
After a 4-59 last week in Napier, Tickner's 5-96 couldn't have come at a better time for the under-pressure defending champions - the injury-hit attack now missing Seth Rance (who injured his hamstring in the previous round) in addition to experienced campaigners Doug Bracewell, Ben Wheeler and Adam Milne.
In combination with the efforts of the two 22-year-olds - three wickets for Willem Ludick and a brace for left-armer Ray Toole that closed the Firebirds' innings when they were just two run shy of a third batting bonus point, it held the host's first innings lead to 202 after they were all out for 298 in 99 overs.
That conferred the maximum four out of four bowling points for the Stags in their neck-and-neck points race with the Firebirds at the top of the table.
The Firebirds will be disappointed not to have kicked on from a patient 95-run stand for third between Ravindra (the 20-year-old top-scoring with 76) and captain Michael Bracewell (70) in the morning session before the new ball was taken.
Jimmy Neesham brings up his 50 off 101 balls. Jamie Gibson going well at the other end, he's 29 off 47. Their partnership now worth 62🏏👏— Wellington Firebirds (@wgtnfirebirds) March 2, 2020
FIREBIRDS 270/5 (88) LEAD BY 174 | LIVE SCORING https://t.co/DbE2Y946zm#WEAREWELLINGTONâšªï¸🟡âš«ï¸ pic.twitter.com/RHgMX7Qkcz
Neesham picked up the baton for more than two and a half hours, but his departure on 63 saw the tail knocked over just a handful of overs later.
By stumps, the Stags had reduced the deficit to 78 with eight wickets in hand, with a chance to recover from their first-day nightmare that saw them bowled out for 96. Captain Greg Hay would resume on 54*, his second half century of the game with the Stags 124 for two overnight.
Thirteen wickets fell on day one of the the capital’s top-of-the-table clash after new leaders the Central Stags were sent in at the green Basin Reserve.
Routed for 96 in just 36.4 overs, the Stags’ predicament might have been worse had it not been for resistance from captain and opening stalwart Hay who was the last to fall on 62 — the only man in the innings to reach double figures.
Neesham picked up 3-17 off just 9.4 overs while Logan van Beek finished with 3-34 off nine, having got the ball rolling with Iain McPeake (2-16), and none of the attack going home empty-handed with the new-style cherry.
Stags paceman Tickner immediately struck back by having the hosts 0/2 in the first over of the reply, removing both Fraser Colson and Conway.
As the afternoon wore on, however, runs began to flow for the Firebirds as they backed up their efforts with the ball.
The hosts would go in set top resume at 175 for three, well placed to extend their 79-run overnight lead, Ravindra (76*) and captain Bracewell (58*) both having reached half centuries in an unbroken 95-run stand.