Mitch Santner is applauded off the field after his maiden five-wicket bag | All images: Margot Butcher

Agony and ecstasy in one of the great last-day battles




Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui

5-8 March, 2023



Total points this round: Northern Districts 20, Central Stags 3



Jeet Raval: 20th first-class century (4th for ND)

Bharat Popli: 6th first-class century

Mitch Santner: 4th first-class century (3rd for ND) and career best first-class score

Mitch Santner: Maiden first-class 5-wicket bag



Mitch Santner: 3rd ND player to score century and take 5-wicket bag in a first-class match

Brad Schmulian: 5th first-class century

Greg Hay: 16th first-class century

Tom Bruce: 8th first-class century

Greg Hay, Tom Bruce: Record 5th wicket partnership (270) in matches for Central Stags v Northern Districts


Greg Hay celebrates his century | All images: Margot Butcher

A remarkable first-class match unfolded in Mt Maunganui over four hard-fought days between Northern Districts and the Central Stags.

The match was a significant one for both teams, the Stags having to overcome the rust of four weeks completely out of action following the devastating effects of Cyclone Gabrielle on Hawke's Bay, where the majority of the side is based.

The Stags had begun the season as one of the early Plunket Shield leaders, and now lagged on the table - but with their cyclone-postponed fifth-round match against the Auckland Aces still to be played.

For Northern, the heat was meanwhile on to gain ground on the table, having taken just one outright from their first five forays and just three rounds left for ND.


The match began after an half-hour logistical delay concerning the arrival of match balls and stumps, and was preceded by a minute's silence for the victims of Cyclone Gabrielle - armbands worn by both teams in tribute, as the Stags belatedly began the back end of the tight first-class season.

Northern Districts captain Jeet Raval asked Greg Hay to field first after winning the toss, with the Stags captain making his first appearance of the season in the sixth-round, following surgery to repair a broken forearm sustained just before the 2022/23 Plunket Shield had begun in October 2022.

In a match studded with gritty hundreds, he would hit the ground running as one of six batsmen to raise his bat in this match - but not before a lengthy stint in the field as ND set about scoring big runs.

Northern was without the services of Joe Carter, sidelined by a leg injury, but they showed they had plenty of batting firepower at their disposal.

The Stags started strongly thanks to a remarkable seven consecutive maidens by left-arm paceman Ray Toole, but soon runs began to flow.

Raval was the first to score a century in the match, followed by first drop Bharat Popli on the same opening day, before Mitch Santner became the third batsman to reach a ton in the same innings, on Day Two.

It was just the third time in history that three ND batsmen had scored centuries in the same innings, with the previous instances having occurred in 1996/97 against Canterbury at Lancaster Park (Blair Pocock, Grant Bradburn and Michael Parlane), and at Seddon Park in 2012/13 against the Auckland Aces (Daniel Flynn, Brad Wilson and James Marshall).

After the relatively early loss of Henry Cooper, Raval (119) and Popli (105) had taken their side to 110/1 by lunch, and Popli was still there at tea at 229/3.

Their partnership had reached 162 before Brad Schmulian, at one of his favourite grounds, encouraged Raval to pop up a catch while attempting a gentle sweep.

Then Ajaz Patel bobbled, but safely captured, a return catch off Tim Seifert soon afterwards, at 222/3 late in the middle session.

The match already had an air of graft about it, the perfume of sweat lingering in the outfield in the warm and breezy, salt-air conditions, with little swing on offer.

The new ball was taken at 288/3, but Toole and Doug Bracewell could do little but watch Popli biding his time to pick off the odd boundary.

He and Santner shared a 111-run stand for the fourth wicket, but the Stags had some late cheer as Brett Randell dismissed Popli caught behind, after a five-hour dig.

Santner headed to stumps unbeaten on 75*, alongside nightwatchman Tim Pringle at 346/4.


In cooler and more overcast conditions, Santner soldiered on to reach just the third Plunket Shield century of his career, one in which he had often been encamped with the BLACKCAPS instead.

He brought up three figures off 145 balls, with 13 boundaries and three sixes in his knock as he helped propel Northern forward at pace - and became the third centurion in the innings in what would prove to be a special match for the accomplished off-spin allrounder.

Central had to console themselves with just two of the four possible bowling bonuses as the conditions continued to favour batsmen and spinners, a quick Colin de Grandhomme half century adding to their frustration before lunch.

The ND 500 would be up on the board before lunch as well, but a late flurry from the Stags had just ended the innings.

Josh Clarkson had brought Santner's career-best effort to an end on 136 before spinners Schmulian (3/45) and Patel (2/134 after 27.2 overs of toil) combined to take the last three ND wickets in the space of six balls.

Central now faced a significant task to match Northern's first innings effort in their first time back at the batting crease in a month.

It started poorly for the visitors, with four of the top five lost inside the first 23 overs. Batting at four, Schmulian was the resister, at the ground where he had scored a New Zealand record debut score of 203.

The wiry fidgeter with the strong defensive game was embarking on his third century against Northern, and the fifth of his Plunket Shield career.

He found a partner in Tom Bruce, who likewise had already scored a double century against ND in his career. Bruce would reach 67 in a partnership of 125 for the fifth, and Schmulian carried on to 108.

The 64th over was a turning point, however, with Santner collecting the big wickets of Bruce and then a scoreless Doug Bracewell off the first two deliveries, the day ending with the Stags 190/6, with Schmulian on 79*.


Clarkson continued to grapple for a start before he was run out in a tight moment by a sensational throw from, who else, Santner at 204/7. Now Schmulian needed lower order support, but Northern kept the pressure on to keep taking away his partners.

Santner added both Randell and Patel to his bowling column before claiming what was, surprisingly, his maiden first-class bag at the conclusion of the same spell, wrapping up the innings on 245 with the wicket of Schmulian - Central taking just one batting bonus, while Northern had collected the full set of eight from bowling and batting in this match.

Santner's 5/51 had come off 26.1 overs in the three-prong spin attack, bowling from fourth change.

Trailing by 268, the Stags already were in a difficult position. But on a flat deck, Raval decided to be sure of an advantage and batted again on the flat deck, looking for quick and emphatic runs.

With more adventure in their game, Northern also lost wickets more readily, but first drop Popli clocked up another half century to go with his first innings ton, top-scoring with a 64-ball 70.

Schmulian meanwhile continued to enjoy himself, spinning in towards tea with two more quick wickets, before Bruce picked up Popli for what turned out to be the final ND wicket before a sharp declaration at 194/7.

Central now needed 463 in four sessions, and Northern's spin-heavy attack 10 wickets at a ground beloved of slow bowlers.

By stumps they had picked up two wickets at 71/2, but Hay - who had dropped down to first drop in this match, moving from his customary opening slot, was still incumbent on 27*, with Schmulian 13*.


The Stags required 392 with eight wickets in hand on the final day at Bay Oval, and would have to reach their highest ever fourth innings total if they were to win the match.

They got remarkably close.

If a flash of nerves travelled through the Stags' quarters when Schmulian fell victim to Kristian Clarke without having added to his overnight score, Dane Cleaver following him back in off Clarke's next over, the nerves were soothed as Hay and Bruce combined for what would be biggest stand of the match.

The first innings rust had gone from two experienced campaigners - Hay having been on course to play his 100th first-class match this summer, before the broken arm.

By lunch, Hay had reached 74 off 171 balls, and Bruce 63 off 109 with their fifth-wicket partnership standing at exactly 100*.

A further 289 runs were required; still a significant task for the visitors to achieve.

The middle session saw each man raise the bat for a century of their own, and they were still together at tea as Northern began to grow weary at the sight of them.

By then, their partnership had reached 206*; now 183 runs were required from the last session for what had seemed such an impossibly win.

They put the Stags 300 on the board together after the break, and kept going, batting into the afternoon sun. Both men would go on to reach a personal 150.

Now the possibility of the win was finally coming into focus, and the impetus was there to elevate the run rate. But soon after Hay had got to his 150, after a long day in the dirt for the Northern fielders, finally the monumental 270-run fifth-wicket stand was broken.

Hay had advanced down the wicket to try to put the ball over Pringle's head, only to be caught by the tall spinner. The youngster barely celebrated, but whether it was from respect or battle fatigue is unknown.

Central had put on a new fifth-wicket record against ND, from 74/4 to 344/5.

The visitors were not done, and Doug Bracewell's return to crease increased their odds of a shock win as he upped the run rate with a quick, 32-ball half ton.

His four sixes looked almost effortless, and Northern was remarkably being pushed back on to the back foot with Central now needing just run-a-ball.

Santner had the answer though, and had Bracewell caught soon after at 414/6.

With four wickets in hand, Central needed a further 49, and time remained to get them. But late order wickets tumbled in each of the next three overs, and the Stags could then no longer risk adventure.

Bruce remained in the middle, looking to save the match, with last man Toole - who had already shown, in his young career, that he was capable of sticking around for a cause. All that remained was to deny Northern 12 points.

Santner had been everywhere in this match.

He'd scored a century, taken a bag in the first innings, and had just taken two catches as well as finishing off the runout of Patel in the flurry of late wickets. Earlier in the innings, he had bowled opener Ben Smith, and he was responsible for the critical wicket of Bracewell during the final assault.

Now one big last wicket was eluding Northern in what had seemed like a match in the pocket, as Bruce and Toole blocked his next over, and then did the same to Pringle.

The overs were ticking down in single figures, the shadows long, as Santner began the 131st over of the innings.

Bruce prodded him away first ball, but then - finally, Bruce missed one, the ball thumping plumb into his pad. Northern went up in delight, scarcely able to believe that the incredible match was finally theirs.

Bruce was gone on 161, the Stags all out for 427: their third highest ever fourth innings total since the team's inception in 1950.

Northern had finished with a 35-run victory, the maximum 20 points, and Santner with eight wickets for a match that will go down as one of the classic Plunket Shield battles.

With Thanks To

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