Wheeler on fire | PHOTOSPORT

Ben-efit at the Basin

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ROUND FOUR

WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS v CENTRAL STAGS

Cello Basin Reserve, Wellington

15-18 November 2021

SCORES

Toss: Central Stags who bowled

Total points this round:

Wellington Firebirds 5

Central Stags 20 (maximum achieved)

SELECTED MILESTONES

Ma'aara Ave - first-class debut (Central Stags)

James Hartshorn - first-class debut (Wellington Firebirds)

Seth Rance - 150 first-class wickets

Ben Sears - second first-class five-wicket bag

Images | PHOTOSPORT

DAY FOUR

The Central Stags nailed an important win on the last day of first-class cricket ahead of Dream11 Super Smash, getting their first Plunket Shield win in the bag in the fourth round with half the afternoon to spare - and leaping up to second on the table, within striking distance of early leaders Canterbury.

After almost having beaten Canterbury in the first round before untimely wet weather, then suffering a draw and a loss back-to-back against the Otago Volts, the Stags finally got the outright they craved, with a full 20 points to boot.

Earlier, the Wellington Firebirds had added a further 25 runs to their overnight total, but lost their last four wickets in the process to set the Central Stags a tame target of just 131 to chase down for victory.

Nathan Smith had remained at his post for a very good unbeaten 72*, but Stags left-armer Ben Wheeler continued his strong all-round performance in this match - adding a four-for to his half century batting at eight in the first innings and head-turning runout on the previous day.

Wheeler (4-54) had quickly snapped up three wickets in the morning, and was a chance of a five-for before teammate Seth Rance stepped in for the last tailend wicket to dismiss the hosts for an even 250.

By lunch, the Stags had whittled that target down to 93, but had lost two wickets - both to Sears, who now had seven for the match.

Opening batsmen Bayley Wiggins and Greg Hay again seemed a hare and tortoise pairing, the youngster taking a positive, aggressive approach while the veteran was a picture of circumspection, having batted 71 minutes before lunch for just a single.

In fact, when Wiggins was caught in the slips at 30/1 in the 10th over, the Stags had two men in the middle yet to get off the mark, such was Hay's patience in the pursuit of a small chase.

Brad Schmulian had got off the mark, but was no sooner out, Dane Cleaver getting underway just before the interval. After Hay fell on 22 (133 minutes) after lunch, it was Cleaver who pushed the win home in partnership with Tom Bruce, the wicketkeeper-batsman finishing unbeaten with a half century.

DAY THREE

Ben Wheeler had a day of cricket to remember, firstly with the bat - before an incredible runout off his own bowling stole the show.

Wheeler's half century batting at eight was just the sixth of his first-class career, and it had helped Doug Bracewell put on 54 for the seventh wicket as the Stags' middle-to-lower order added valuable runs in the morning session.

The wind hadn't let up all match and added a layer of frustration for the Wellington Firebirds who created plenty of chances, with few sticking, as the Stags marched on towards a first-innings lead of 120.

Bracewell reached 68 and Wheeler 59 before a Firebirds fightback saw the Stags dismissed for 358 in 95.3 overs - the Stags having taken the full set of eight bonus points to the Firebirds' five.

Bean Sears finished with figures of 5-88 and Nathan Smith made the most of the new ball as he took a couple of wickets in the session to pocket 3-69 as the hosts stopped the visitors from growing a bigger advantage.

The Firebirds had to bat for a tricky 10 overs before lunch in the second innings, but lost a wicket almost immediately when Seth Rance hooped back a big inswinger first ball to bowl a luckless Jakob Bhula.

By tea, the hosts had lost a further three wickets at 95/4, with a big effort now needed to fight their way back into some sort of control over their fortunes.

The session had included the remarkable runout: a deft piece of timing and awareness from Wheeler who, as he was completing his follow through, spotted batsman Nick Greenwood holding his pose outside of his crease and threw down the stumps with the perfect angle, and with his wrong hand, to avoid any chance of hitting Greenwood himself.

Just as Bracewell and Wheeler had combined to do the business with the bat earlier in the day, now they were doing the job with the ball - Wheeler picking up allrounder Jamie Gibson on 39 soon after, and Bracewell accounting for his cousin Michael (caught on 46) - and, earlier, Finn Allen who was caught behind for just eight.

Now it was the Firebirds who needed a staunch rearguard effort, as they dropped to six down with an overall lead of only some 60 runs.

Nathan Smith was up for the fight and struck a brisk half century in the afternoon sun, off just 72 balls in the last session. He survived a caught behind scare off Seth Rance just after he'd reached his half ton, going on to push the Firebirds past the 200 mark.

Batting alongside him in the last overs of the day was young Callum McLachlan who will have been relieved to get off the mark, after three consecutive ducks, including a King pair, in his first three innings in first-class cricket.

The pair saw their side through to stumps and an overnight lead of 105, heading into the last day at the Basin with four wickets still in hand.

DAY TWO

Blair Tickner's hopes of a second bag at the Cello Basin Reserve evaporated when teammate Seth Rance zeroed in on the last remaining Firebirds wicket - claiming Nathan Smith as his 150th first-class career victim.

Smith had barely added to his overnight tally, an important half century for his side as the first innings closed at 238 in 76 overs, Rance making a successful return to Plunket Shield cricket with 4-52 and Tickner 4-56.

The Stags openers put on 25 before Smith broke through with Bayley Wiggins caught in the slips. Wet weather then popped over the horizon and caused a delay until after lunch, the Stags losing a further two wickets in the middle session as Sears claimed both the stoic Greg Hay and mercurial Brad Schmulian who had raced out to 88 before he guided a catch to Finn Allen in the slips, missing out on what would have been his second first-class century of the season.

Sears was running hot and claimed the big wickets of both Dane Cleaver and Tom Bruce in quick succession after tea, the Stags going from 163/3 at the break to a more vulnerable 188/5 in the process.

The two debutants in the match, Wellington's James Hartshorn and the Stags' Ma'ara Ave then faced each other in a delightful mini-battle with Ave going on to reach 24 in almost an hour and a half at the crease with the vastly experienced Doug Bracewell.

The pair had put on 70 for the sixth wicket, secured a bonus point and taken the Stags into the lead but Sears struck again, yet another catch in the match floating to the slips as Ave became his fifth victim of the innings: his second first-class bag.

Bracewell and Ben Wheeler saw the visitors through to stumps at 285/5, and a lead of 47 with four wickets remaining.

DAY ONE

At a windswept and interesting Cello Basin Reserve, Central Stags captain Greg Hay had no hesitation bowling first after winning the toss in the last round of red ball this side of Christmas.

The Stags were eager for a win after dominating a drawn first-round in Christchurch, followed by a draw and a loss with the Otago Volts.

The Firebirds were meanwhile coming off a brutal loss to Canterbury and eager to get back on the horse ahead of Dream11 Super Smash and the mid-season remission.

Michael Bracewell | PHOTOSPORT

By stumps, the momentum on the first day had oscillated between the two sides, the Stags finishing in the stronger position by having got the Firebirds nine down by stumps.

The hosts had grafted their way to 233/9 with a half century from captain Michael Bracewell (51) who shared a 70-run stand with Finn Allen for the fourth wicket.

That had ensured the Firebirds had fought back from a position of 65/3 at lunch, before a clump of wickets saw the Firebirds go to tea in another pickle at 150/7.

Nuggety allrounder Nathan Smith has already taken two bags from his first three matches for his new team this season, and added his first half century in Firebirds colours in the last session.

Smith was unbeaten on 55* at stumps, his resilience through the latter part of the afternoon seeing his side to a first batting bonus point.

The Stags had meanwhile pocketed the maximum four bowling bonus points from the innings with paceman Blair Tickner a chance of a fifth five-wicket bag if he could take the final Firebirds wicket on Day Two.

With Thanks To

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