NORTHERN DISTRICTS v CENTRAL STAGS
19-22 October 2020
RESULT: CENTRAL STAGS WON BY 7 WICKETS
Toss: Central Stags
Points: Stags 15, ND 2
• Ish Sodhi 50th first-class match for Northern Districts
• Greg Hay equalled the NZ first-class record for most consecutive half centuries (6) held jointly by Bert Sutcliffe, Mathew Sinclair, Matt Bell, James Franklin and Bruce Pairaudeau
After three days of largely sitting around playing cards, both teams arrived at the ground to the excitement of a sunny day and the prospect of manufacturing a result after all. All, that is, except for Ish Sodhi, who became just the second player in cricket to be subbed out of a team under the new COVID-19 precautionary regulations, after feeling unwell overnight. Sodhi was replaced by fellow spinner Joe Walker who was looking fitter than ever after making the most of a long off season.
Resuming the first innings at 145/2, ND needed only to carry on business as usual. Patience and application had seen them hold the upper hand until now, albeit in a long, drawn-out process thanks to the frequent weather interruptions.
But after just eight balls on the new day, the first wicket fell as an exacting Doug Bracewell trapped youngster Katene Clarke. Young Stag Ray Toole had opened with a maiden, helping build some early pressure as the Stags attempted to compensate for the loss of hamstrung Blair Tickner.
ND captain Joe Carter recombined with Colin de Grandhomme in a positive 40-run stand for the fourth, but their good work was undone by a piece of fielding brilliance from his 36-year-old counterpart. Running, diving, sprawling Greg Hay held the catch that turned the match - a wicket for Toole, sending Carter back to the pavilion.
It triggered a collapse, leg-spinner Brad Schmulian (shouldering the responsibility in the absence of injured Ajaz Patel) bringing spin into the attack for the first time and rustling up a startling 3-16 off his six overs. A mercurial player with a habit of pulling rabbits out of hats, it included a double wicket maiden to account for both Tim Southee and Neil Wagner.
Suddenly bonus points were being totted up with both bat and ball in the lively morning session, until Carter called his batsmen in when the ND score reached 253/8 at 65 overs, to deny the Stags a fourth bowling point for taking nine wickets.
It was a gamble that would not pay off for the ND captain.
After both captains forfeited their next innings in the desire for 12 outright points, a fascinating afternoon's run chase was set up. By lunch, the Stags were 22 without loss, needing a further 231: a boundary per over. Carter was backing his quality pace attack of Wagner, Southee, Jimmy Baker, Colin de Grandhomme and Scott Kuggeleijn, but they met obstinance in Hay and George Worker.
By tea, the experienced duo had both reached careful half centuries and navigated their side to 118/0. They would carry on to put on 177.
Worker, freeing his arms, had just cut and pulled Wagner to the rope three times when he stood on 96* ready to slash Wagner again.
Wagner was hardly about to give in, and delighted in breaking the stand as Worker went to hook him - a go-to shot for Worker - only to painfully pop a catch to Kuggeleijn in the deep.
It seemed unjust that both Stags openers would ultimately depart just shy of a hundred, with Hay's 93 also ended by the tirelessly competitive Wagner. After all day padded up, Ross Taylor then suffered a first-ball duck to give Wagner (3-65) an even broader grin.
But the Stags had only needed a boundary per over, and had remained on track throughout. Will Young's breezy unbeaten 43* developed at run-a-ball pace and removed any hint of tension, hitting the winning runs with 26 balls to spare.
The opening round of the 2020/21 Plunket Shield had produced outright results in all three games, no matter what the weather as the Stags snuck up into third spot on the table, just one point behind Canterbury and three behind leaders the Auckland Aces (18).
For the first time in the match, play started on time with pockets of blue sky interrupting the cloud cover parked over Seddon.
Also for the first time in the match, the Stags made a breakthrough - ND's patient opening stand broken when Ross Taylor flew backwards to pick up a one-handed grab in the slips, with his left hand, to dismiss Jeet Raval on 68.
Raval and Cooper (58) had taken the hosts through to 127 before Seth Rance ended the partnership. All of a sudden, one became two with a persistent Doug Bracewell getting his first reward the next over, Henry Cooper caught by Tom Bruce shortly after having registered his own half century straight off the bat this season.
Unfortunately the weather couldn't stay out of the action for long, and another stoppage sent both sides off the park again at 145 for two.
After lunch, a heavy shower ruined the chances of getting back on later in the afternoon, with the bowlers' run-ups slow to dry.
No sooner had the players left the ground than the skies cleared, the sun blazing down. Will it play ball on the final day, both captains yet to pick up a point?
Another early finish today due to rain.— Northern Districts (@ndcricket) October 21, 2020
There was some early morning action, Henry Cooper brought up 50 before being dismissed for 58. Jeet Raval got out for 68.
Carter and Clarke will resume play tomorrow. Let's hope for some ☀️ pic.twitter.com/d4555G3mCe
Despite lingering drizzle, play resumed just long enough for Jeet Raval to reach a half century in his first innings for his new team.
Play didn't begin until after lunch, and was called at tea, with Raval unbeaten on 48* and opening partner Henry Cooper (48*) just two runs shy of joining him.
Despite the green sheen of their home pitch, the deck has slowed in the damp weather and they had built a 121-run unbroken stand, the Stags frustrated not just by four lost sessions at the midpoint of the match, but their inability to force a breakthrough despite some sharp efforts by Doug Bracewell.
While other matches are racing along, will there be time for a result in Hamilton?
Met by a lime-green wicket and drizzly weather, there was no question whoever won the toss on the first morning of the 2020/21 season at Seddon was going to bowl first.
After overnight showers and a toss delayed by half an hour, captains Joe Carter and Greg Hay eventually gingerly filed out to the middle of the overcast oval, both hoping the coin would fall their way.
Each commanded a stellar bowling attack. No fewer than 13 current or erstwhile BLACKCAPS were named in these two facing XIs: Neil Wagner, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi and Colin de Grandhomme all in the ND attack and Blair Tickner, Seth Rance, Doug Bracewell and George Worker for the Stags, which was without the services of leading spinner Ajaz Patel sitting out the match with a calf niggle.
No wonder BLACKCAPS coach Gary Stead made a beeline for this game.
The coin fell Hay's way and soon enough Bracewell and Rance were steaming in, but alas, so was the miscreant weather.
Only 20.4 overs of play in the morning session was permitted before drizzle forced an early lunch and, eventually, early stumps. It was long enough for ND openers Jeet Raval - in his first match for ND, after travelling down the state highway from Auckland - and Henry Cooper to needle the Stags' skin with their encouraging start.
The pair had reached 81 without loss before the curtailment, Raval (44*) closing in on a half century in his first ND foray and Cooper (32*) likewise seeing off a feisty first spell from Bracewell and putting the bad ball away when he got the chance.
With showers forecast to hang about, both sides will be keen to get back on the park to take control of the first innings.