Northern Districts v Central Stags at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, 23-26 October 2017
Points: Northern Districts 7, Central Stags 5
Ajaz Patel’s six-wicket bag, and nine for the match, was the highlight of an absorbing final day at Bay Oval.
The leading wicket-taker for the past two seasons now already has a jump on the field after this first round, and his 11 overs of off-spinning carnage ensured that the Stags continued their strong fightback in a match that surprisingly went the distance after all.
The day has begun with ND 17 for one in the second dig, captain Daniel Flynn (64 off 60) making a positive start once again with his second fifty of the match.
Bharat Popli was first to fall, and Patel’s first wicket of a rapid succession when he was caught on 23.
From there the scorers were scrambling to keep up as a wickets tumbled in the 17th, 18th, 23rd (a brace for Patel in that one, off the first and third deliveries with Will Young taking a sharp catch to dismiss Dean Brownlie), 27th, 30th, 31st and 33rd overs. Patel’s figures were inked in at 11-2-48-6.
Almost all of the ND batsmen had departed caught as they looked to attack, Flynn ultimately declaring at 176 for nine shortly before lunch — leaving the Stags one tricky over to bat out before the break and a target of 308 from 65 overs at roughly five an over.
The Stags were still without the service of Ben Smith, who had broken his finger earlier in the game, so Patel was once again paired with Greg Hay at the top of the order.
Hay would anchor the chase with a typically nuggety 76 off 131 and, across the second session, his various partners ensured the Stags would keep pace with the require rate before he trucked up his half century shortly before the break, the Stags 130/2 at tea and needing a further 178 to win.
Scott Kuggeleijn had had some fortune in removing Patel on 10, the ball popping up from a fend only to fall back down on Patel’s castle.
First drop Mitch Renwick had been trapped with the Stags at 59 for two, but Will Young had formed a promising combo with Hay, his flourishing cuts and drives the counterpoint to his partner’s grittiness.
The pair was on course for a 100-stand after tea when Young (above) flashed down the leg side only to see Baker snaffle the catch for Anton Devcich, the Stags captain departing for 32, a further 164 runs needed.
His exit brought to the crease the unlikely hero of the first innings, record-smashing debutant Brad Schmulian.
After having batted for almost seven hours in his first innings, this time Schmulian’s stay was restricted to 17 minutes before Brent Arnel (above) zeroed in on the top of his off stump. If it’s any consolation, he was still averaging more than 100 after just two first-class innings.
Dane Cleaver (above) was the last of the shortened Stags line-up with a license to thrill, putting a six onto the embankment in his run-a-ball 27 before Doug Bracewell was left to sweat out the last stanzas of the afternoon with the tail.
In the end the Stags effectively had just two wickets in hand when time was called, but that was enough to call it an honourable draw.
The Stags now head to their first home match at Nelson’s Saxton Oval on Monday, against the wounded Auckland Aces; while ND travels to Rangiora to meet another team keen to get off the mark, Canterbury.
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First innings batting bonus points, Northern Districts 4 (maximum achieved), Central Stags 3 (completed)
First innings bowling bonus points, Central Stags 2 (completed), Northern Districts 3 (completed)
A team innings that started in tatters ended in headline news, thanks to a 27-year-old rookie enjoying the kind of first-class debut that dreams are made of.
“Brad Schmulian, highest score on debut in NZ history. Is it an even more remarkable achievement than Papps' effort?” tweeted Kiwi cricket stats sage Francis Payne.
That such a tweet could exist just 24 hours after Michael Papps had become the first triple centurion for the Firebirds, and busted all sorts of records himself, was in itself remarkable. And yes, arguably Schmulian has gone one-up, performing against a stronger attack, under pressure, and in his very first innings.
Day three at Bay Oval had begun well for ND, the team raising a sixth half century in their total of 439 for five, Anton Devcich unbeaten on 54 and ensuring that every single batsman who had walked out to bat came back in with a half ton to star their season.
It was a solid effort, and that was backed up by a fiery start from the ND pace attack that immediately had the Stags on the back foot.
The Stags had already lost usual opener Ben Smith, who fractured his finger the previous evening while attempting to take a catch. Occasional nightwatchman Ajaz Patel, who had opened before, jumped up the order to open in Smith’s stead, but quickly lost more experienced partners Greg Hay (1), Mitch Renwick (0) and Will Young (1), the Stags dazed at 7/3 in just the eighth over.
Surely this was not looking a good day at all for the Stags, but that was when Brad Schmulian walked out for his first bat for the side.
A former Auckland club cricketer of the year, Schmulian had moved down to Hawke’s Bay just over a year previously to try and further his career, and was coming off centuries in both a CD wider squad trial match and the intra-provincial Chapple Cup in recent weeks. Slightly built but busy, technically refined and the kind of batsman who counts his own runs, he was about to make history inside a day’s play.
Schmulian had reached 33 by lunch, he and Patel crucially getting their side through to the break without any further damage and looking to push on from a stand of 44 off 77 balls. At that point, even a half century would have given solace to his team.
Patel fell quickly after lunch, bringing keeper-batsman Dane Cleaver to the crease. Cleaver would depart quickly after having the bad luck to clip the wicket with his bat after launching into a meaty pull shot, producing a third wicket for paceman Scott Kuggeleijn.
Unrattled Schmulian meanwhile had already made people sit up by hooking Kuggeleijn to the fence, and his maiden fifty on debut flew off just 67 balls, including his first six. That was indicative of how a special innings would progress.
By mid-afternoon, he was poised on an unbeaten 98, off just 100 balls, Doug Bracewell (14*) now at his side as they fought to defend the sixth wicket on a warm but windy day, the occasional swirl of dust blowing through their helmets from the earthworks going on around the spectator banks where light towers were being erected.
The Stags’ tally now was 150 for five, and a couple of runs later Schmulian became only the 20th New Zealand batsman to raise his bat for a century in his first innings in first-class cricket, heading to tea on an unbeaten 116. He was also the first Central Stag to do so since Don Macleod in 1956/57
Although Schmulian himself was unaware of the record, talk around the ground now turned to whether he might reach the highest score on debut in New Zealand history — a record that had stood since 1880/81, a mark of 175 set by George Watson for Canterbury, which had been the first ever century on debut in New Zealand.
Bracewell played an important support role, calm and in control at the other end against a good, if wearying attack, reinforced with the return of former international Brent Arnel. He reached his own half ton off 109 balls (five fours, one six), celebrated a 200-stand for the sixth wicket, then watched unknowingly as Schmulian glided past the dust-covered New Zealand record for most runs on debut.
Now for the big one. Seemingly unfazed, having even maintained an audacious run-a-ball strike rate, Schmulian raced through his 190s and looked to the heavens again as suddenly the dressing room erupted once more for his ground-breaking double century. He'd done it in fitting style, with a cover drive to the boundary.
His brilliant debut knock ended shortly afterwards on 203 (31 fours, three sixes) when he was caught and bowled by Anton Devcich, but the Stags were now 309/6 — the deficit slashed down to 130 runs.
Looking to keep life in the result, the Stags declared behind, then quickly celebrated a quick wicket as Seth Rance removed Tim Seifert for just one run. By stumps, ND's lead was 143 runs with nine wickets in hand.
The match is already destined to go down in history thanks to a remarkable and gutsy new batsman for whom the enormity of his achievement is all still sinking in.
Bracewell and Schmulian's 224-run sixth wicket partnership had ended just 11 runs shy of the CD sixth wicket record, held by Mathew Sinclair and Bevan Griggs.
First innings batting bonus points, Northern Districts 4 (maximum achieved)
First innings bowling bonus points, Central Stags 1 (in progress)
The match getting underway on time on a sunnier day two, and winning the toss, were about the only things that went to plan for the Central Stags at Bay Oval on Tuesday.
Captain Will Young opted to bowl on a deck that looked like it had been broad-brushed with green paint, a few showers lurking on the Kaimais, and a bowling unit including Doug Bracewell, Seth Rance and Blair Tickner fired up to rip into their season, and ND’s batsmen.
Yet by the end of the day, the Northern hosts had put almost 400 on the board, the outfield fast as the trains zooming past the ground at regular intervals.
Surprisingly, even though the strong ND batting parade had ploughed fairly relentlessly towards their stumps score of 378 for four, no batsman had reached a century.
Captain Daniel Flynn had led the way with Tim Seifert in the morning session, in which the Stags failed to take a wicket. There were half chances, appeals, (and a few misfields); and there was Doug Bracewell snorting in, proving very difficult to score off, building pressure along with Rance.
There was the odd moment that saw the ball squirt behind the batsman and somehow manage not to collide with the stumps. But for the most part, there was Flynn calmly trucking up the runs, occasionally unleashing a trademark vicious pull shot to the ropes and leading the way to a century stand for the first wicket in his comeback innings.
Flynn was the first to fall, trapped by Bracewell on 62 shortly after lunch, which had been hastened by the briefest of showers. Then Bevan Small, also in his comeback match after a season-long injury layoff, trapped Seifert a few overs later, on 77: another would-be century going begging at 154 for two. The hard-hitting youngster had only just tucked into Ajaz Patel for his first six when it all went south.
Dropped on 10, Bharat Popli formed a robust new combo with Dean Brownlie (below) as the pair put the kerfuffle behind them to the tune of a 120-run stand for the second wicket.
Brownlie punched solid cover drives while Popli squeezed and guided, and the afternoon for the Stags turned long in the field. None of the ND batsman may have reached three figures, but it was a solid team effort, and a reward for early watchfulness.
Debuting for the Stags was Hawke’s Bay batsman Brad Schmulian who found himself bowling his first over of quite bustling leg-spin in first-class cricket against this ND wall, turning in six overs for 25 runs. Meanwhile, the Plunket Shield’s leading wicket taker for the past two seasons, off-spinner Ajaz Patel, removed both Brownlie (62) and then the deft Popli (84) after tea.
But at 274 for three, then 345 for four, the pressure was off ND, and BJ Watling and Anton Devcich saw to it that no further wicket would fall before stumps, by which time Watling had become the fifth of the six ND batsmen to reach a half century, while Devcich waited on an unbeaten 20.
A good toss to lose, as they say.
No play due to rain; toss yet to be made. Day two will begin at 10.30 a.m.