NORTHERN DISTRICTS v WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS
Seddon Park, Hamilton
First innings bonus points
Batting: Northern Districts 2 (completed), Wellington Firebirds 2 (completed)
Bowling: Wellington Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved), Northern Districts 4 (maximum achieved)
Result: Northern Districts won by 98 runs
It had been one heck of a tussle against the Firebirds on a bowler-friendly deck, but Joe Carter's first innings century on a green deck would lead all the way to a key win for his side as ND made its way further up the Plunket Shield points ladder.
In their second dig, ND was all out for 276 in the final morning session, Patel finishing with 4-88 as they set the Firebirds a target of 241 to win.
The visitors' chase got off to a dramatic start, however, both openers, Luke Woodcock and Andrew Fletcher, falling inside the first four overs before lunch, Scott Kuggeleijn and Jimmy Baker sharing the spoils at 12 for two.
By tea, the Firebirds were still in reasonable shape, requiring just 110 further runs for victory. Devon Conway had reached his half century just before the break. However, the first drop had lost three more partners in the session, the visitors now five down to calm ND's nerves a tad heading into an unpredictable last session.
Enter ND spinner Joe Walker in the final session. He removed Lauchie Johns and then the big wicket of Conway, making the Firebirds more vulnerable. Walker rolled on to grab his second five-wicket bag as ND closed out an exciting victory by 98 runs.
The battles continued in a closely fought contest on a difficult Seddon Park deck. After resuming at 152 for three, when Scott Kuggeleijn ended a lively tailend cameo from veteran Jeetan Patel, the Firebirds declared at nine down in the middle session for a 36-run first innings lead.
Patel had smacked 35 off just 25 balls with assistance from Iain McPeake, captain Michael Bracewell declaring at the fall of Patel's wicket on 287. Northern, meanwhile, had now emulated their opponents with a full set of bowling bonus points on a seamer's deck.
Earlier, Devon Conway had picked up where he had left off overnight to top-score with 74, his fourth-wicket stand with Malcolm Nofal reaching 51 before Brett Randell had him caught behind.
Randell and Kuggeleijn both pocketed a brace of wickets while Baker walked off with 4-68.
ND then made a better start to their second dig, both Henry Cooper and captain Daniel Flynn almost reaching half centuries at the top before being dismissed by Ben Sears' raw young pace and Patel's seasoned spin, respectively.
Bharat Popli had joined his skipper at 76 for one in the 16th, batting 18 overs for his 24 runs before Patel swooped again. Fellow spinner Luke Woodcock would later claim Joe Carter and Anton Devcich off consecutive deliveries, first innings centurion Carter stopped on just 10.
Nick Kelly meanwhile survived with a patient 36* by stumps, set to resume a 26*-run stand for the sixth wicket with Kuggeleijn on the final morning, with a lead of 153.
The big return of Joe Carter continued this summer as the Bay of Plenty batsman reached his second career first-class century, just weeks after his maiden Ford Trophy effort including a world record over, in a pressure situation in the first session of day two.
On a green wicket, with virtually all the rest of his team falling away, Carter took charge by cracking his hundred off 119 balls, including 10 boundaries and four sixes. He had galloped from 90* to 100* in the space of just two deliveries, posting his three figures with a beautifully executed six.
He had some support from tailenders Joe Walker (31, above) and Jimmy Baker who stuck with him before Carter became the last to fall, caught behind on 109 to end ND's first dig at 251 in just 58.4 overs, on the stroke of lunch.
Ollie Newton had been the one to do it, finishing with 4-58 as he continued his sharp form from The Ford Trophy. The Firebirds ended a good day at 152 for three in reply, overnight batsman Devon Conway having reached his half century off 111 balls (five boundaries, one six) with Malcolm Nofal just getting started on 4*.
Captain Michael Bracewell had almost emulated Conway but after two hours of good work fell to Jimmy Baker on 46 just a handful of overs before stumps.
The day also delivered a significant piece of statchat when Jeetan Patel dismissed Peter Bocock. It took Patel's first-class wickets haul to 819, taking him to fourth on the all-time list for New Zealand bowlers, going past the late Tom Pritchard who played the bulk of his career for Patel's County side Warwickshire, as well as for Wellington.
After waiting around almost all day for the game to get going, Iain McPeake was immediately rewarded for his patience with a wicket first over on a rain-affected first-day as the Plunket Shield resumed for 2018/19 in Hamilton.
McPeake had the hosts 4/1 after Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell unsurprisingly elected to bowl, with the first over at 4.30pm.
Ollie Newton then picked up a wicket in his first spell as well, Daniel Flynn shouldering arms only to lose his off-bail on 15.
Young quick Ben Sears then didn't have to wait long for his maiden wicket on first-class debut, Nick Kelly playing on to a sharp delivery to have ND 48 for three, the wicket maiden the last act of the opening day.