Plunket Shield round six: SKYCITY Northern Knights 374 in 106.3 overs (Brownlie 58, Devcich 61, Santner 53, Jono Boult 48) and 273/8 declared in 75.5 overs (Brownlie 52, Wilson 77, Mitchell 71; Patel 4-98, Mathieson 3-47) beat the Devon Hotel Central Stags 300/6 declared in 89.3 overs (Bruce 85, Young 132, Bracewell 38 not out) and 304 all out in 106.1 overs (Hay 98, Young 56, van Wyk 62; Devcich 4-46, Santner 3-70) by 43 runs at Cobham Oval, Whangarei
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All-rounder Anton Devcich took his career-best figures as the Knights' spin attack won a gripping last day battle with the Stags, pipping them at the post with one last, stubborn wicket late in the afternoon, with just 3.5 overs to spare, after an adventurous run chase that had all of Stags Nation on the edge of their seat.
The outright puts the Knights at the top of the Plunket Shield points table for now, albeit with the two remaining games in this round still in progress; and the Stags in third spot.
The Stags had set off on a courageous hunt for 325 runs in the day, and got themselves into a position to get them — keeping the required run rate in reasonable check to the last.
And, captain Kruger van Wyk was so very nearly the hero. Finding singles when the pressure was on, picking off the four balls when it eased, van Wyk stuck to his task, showed his usual guts, and put on 49 with Ajaz Patel (23 not out) for the ninth wicket — he was also the Stags' last genuine hope of picking off the last 70-odd runs needed for victory.
The crucial moment was a ball from Mitchell Santner that skimmed his bat en route to keeper BJ Watling — who duly marked his 100th first-class cap with the most vital catch of the game. Van Wyk had made it to 62, just 66 more runs required by his team. He was gutted, but the never-say-die spirit of the Stags continued as number eleven Andy Mathieson helped himself to a six and a boundary to give his team one last hope. There would be no shutting up shop. It was fight or die, no surrender — and ultimately they went down fighting, heads held high, as Mathieson was caught by Devcich, young Santner having struck one final blow.
Earlier, the Stags had recovered well from the early setback the night before. Greg Hay, who narrowly missed out on a seventh first-class century when he was dismissed on 98 just after drinks in the middle session, and Will Young put on 107 in 32 overs, giving their side much confidence.
Young followed up his first-innings ton with 56 before he was caught and bowled by Devcich, who took his career-best 4-46 off 15 overs. In his next over, Devcich got the aggressive Tom Bruce early, caught behind after Bruce had got himself off the mark with a four first ball; then claimed Hay lbw in the most bittersweet moment of the match.
While the Stags attacked their task with gusto, they'll nevertheless be kicking themselves for going into freefall after lunch from 168/3 (at the loss of Young) to 233/8 (by which time van Wyk was running out of partners). For the Knights, it was a classy exhibition from their strong department of spin, the slow bowlers taking all but one of the final innings wickets between them.
Overnight centurion Will Young cracked on to 132 — beating his previous best of 121 and having set a new Stags record the previous day for the fourth wicket against the Knights with Tom Bruce of 164, nudging past the mark set by Llorne Howell and Mark Greatbatch in the 1995/96 season.
Stags captain Kruger van Wyk made a game of it by declaring on 300, 74 runs behind on the first innings. It was an open invitation to the Knights to back themselves and they raced to 273/8 before themselves declaring late in the day, having set the Stags a target of 348.
Dean Brownlie and his opening partner Brad Wilson made a confident start as they got their side through to 73 without loss at lunch, golden arm George Worker for once unable to pick up a wicket before the break.
Brownlie then registered his 50 off 83 balls, almost sedate by his standards. Wilson, who top-scored with 77, raised his own bat after drinks, now batting in tandem with Daryl Mitchell after the opening stand ended at 89.
Joe Carter's second season blues had continued as Ajaz Patel picked him up for a duck for no addition to the score, but Mitchell quickly settled in to post his half-century just before drinks in the third session, by now supported by Mitchell Santner who'd already cracked three boundaries for his 19.
Kuggeleijn replaced Santner soon after the break, and got off the mark with consecutive boundaries off Ben Wheeler as the Knights, already with a 300-plus lead, looked to make hay. He lasted exactly two overs with Patel picking up his third strike of the innings to usher in Jono Boult at eight.
Mitchell responded by pelting Patel for two sixes in three deliveries to take himself to 71, but the third attempt was his undoing and, upon Greg Hay completing the catch, Knights skipper BJ Watling declared.
At stumps, the Stags had already lost a wicket in the final chase with opening batsman George Worker racking up a pair against Graeme Aldridge, who got him leg before this time. At 23/1, the Stags need 325 runs on the last day to force a win.
Jono Boult turned his hand to rustling up some quick and handy late runs for the Knights on the second morning, piling on 63 runs for the eighth wicket with Scott Kuggeleijn — until Doug Bracewell finally got him to nick one behind. It was a decent reply from Test allrounder Bracewell, the cheeky spinner having just annoyed him by taking his seventh boundary to move to just two runs shy of a half-century when he was dismissed next ball.
That took the Knights to 335/8, and the Northern tailenders continued to frustrate the Stags for another 11 overs. Graeme Aldridge chipped in with 25 before Andy Mathieson took him out to wrap up their first knock at 374 — the wickets shared around the Stags attack.
By lunch, in reply the Stags were already a nervy three down and looking for a saviour. He materialised in the form of impressive young number four Will Young, who confidently brought up his 50 with a four off Santner and batted consummately throughout the rest of the day to be unbeaten on 113 at stumps.
At day’s end, the Stags trailed the Knights by 113 runs, well placed to kick on at only five down. Young had been buoyed by an unbroken 48-run stand with the assertive Bracewell, who’d already pelted three boundaries and a six en route to his overnight 26.
Young’s century is his second first-class ton and is poised just short of his highest first-class score of 121. After a super cautious beginning, earlier he’d found crucial support in his Taranaki captain Tom Bruce — who in his debut season for the Stags is proving a good asset for the Stags, going from strength to strength.
Bruce produced a lively 85 (off 112 balls, including a six off Boult) before he was caught behind off Anton Devcich — having put on 164 runs with Young for the fourth wicket across two and a half hours as they built their respective innings side by side.
The Stags then lost Kruger van Wyk in a double breakthrough as spinner Mitchell Santner picked up his first victim.
With regular skipper Daniel Flynn unavailable, BJ Watling marked his 100th first-class match by taking the captain’s armband for the SKYCITY Northern Knights at the start of a muggy Whangarei rematch with their districts rivals the Stags.
The experience of Brad Wilson filled Flynn’s place in the top order, while for the Devon Hotel Central Stags, too, there were notable changes. New-ball seamer Ben Wheeler finally returned to action after a lengthy layoff with a broken finger, David Meiring was in for Dean Robinson (who broke his leg fielding in the previous round) and allrounder Kieran Noema-Barnett was unavailable for this match and the rest of the season as he headed to his new County career with Gloucestershire.
Watling’s decision to bat quickly looked on song as Dean Brownlie got the hosts away to a flier, but this time round the Stags stopped the triple centurion of the previous match on 58 — Wilson far more sedate, lumbering on 12 as the Knights lost their first at 78.
Wilson and Carter pushed their side past 100, but fell in quick succession to Doug Bracewell and Bevan Small respectively, the Knights sitting on Nelson’s at lunch — 111/3.
Anton Devcich quickly got things humming again after the break, off the mark with a boundary and carving up fellow spinner Ajaz Patel as he raced to 30. Patel had some joy when he bowled Daryl Mitchell for just 22, then Wheeler got himself back in the groove with the prize wicket of Watling shortly after drinks in the second session, for just 5 runs.
Devcich, on 40 at the wicket, carried on nonplussed, supported by young gun Mitchell Santner. Thumping Patel for anouther four, his half-century arrived off 79 balls, five boundaries and a six for good measure included, to take the Knights to the cusp of their 200.
But the Knights had spent the day putting together a bits-and-pieces innings, and the order of the day continued as Devcich was stumped off Tom Bruce on 61, just two overs before tea — Santner on 21 as the scoreboard flipped over to 221/6.
A balmy thunderstorm brought a tropical touch and protracted delay of some 90 minutes that began shortly after tea.
The players finally got back on with 23 overs left in the first day. Santner showed himself to be undistracted by the interruption and marched on to a vaulable half-century just before the Cobham tower clock struck six, bringing it up with another boundary off Patel.
Eclipsing Scott Kuggeleijn with his strike rate, the pair posted a 50 partnership before well known golden arm George Worker came on just before the drinks break — and succeeded with his first ball after it, picking up Santner caught and bowled for 53, to the Stags' jubilation.
At stumps, Kuggeleijn and Jono Boult had put on handy late runs to take the Knights from 272/7 to 312/7, Worker sitting on figures of 1-4 off three. Play on day two starts early at 10.19am.
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