Plunket Shield round four: Wellington Firebirds 263 all out in 105.3 overs (Joon 55, Murdoch 66, Blundell 42, Day 32; Astle 5-46) and 264 in 100.4 overs (Murdoch 71, Franklin 52, McEwan 47*) lost to Canterbury 356 in 106.1 overs (Dawson 39, Ellis 171, Astle 43, Anderson 54; Arnel 5-95) and 172/1 (Hira 71, Dawson 50*, Broom 43*) by nine wickets at the Basin Reserve, Wellington
Desperate to keep the Firebirds in the game on a warm, windy morning in Wellington, Luke Woodcock and Matt McEwan looked to steadily grow their eighth wicket stand, adding 30 runs in the first hour. They teased out the Firebirds’ slender lead to 142 before Ryan McCone trapped Woodcock on 27, his third victim of the innings.
The blow was all it took to trigger the final unravelling, leaving McEwan stranded just three runs short of what would have been his maiden first-class half-century. It also left the hosts' backs firmly against the wall.
Ronnie Hira was the only Canterbury wicket to fall in the afternoon chase, but by then he'd pasted 71 runs on the board and the scent of victory was even stronger. Neil Broom, positive as always, joined Greg Dawson to mow down the last 50-odd runs required with a slew of boundaries, Dawson clipping a single off Woodcock to post his second first-class career half-century, off 110 balls, just 10 runs before the victory was signed off.
The win promoted Canterbury to the top of the Plunket Shield points table after the Aces and Knights drew in Auckland.
Andy Ellis passed 150 as he smote consecutive boundaries off Ili Tugaga, but Brent Arnel broke the stubborn partnership in the next over by removing Freddie Anderson, just after the young keeper had posted his own maiden first-class fifty.
By then the Canterbury pair had pulled out to a lead of 65 in a fine recovery job, but Matt Henry couldn’t do much to continue the late surge — promptly becoming Arnel’s fifth victim as the wily Wellingtonian smashed through his stumps mid-morning.
Ellis was on 166 at the time, surpassing his previous best first-class score of 142, and his epic was ended on 171 — caught behind off Matt McEwan. By then Canterbury had a first-innings lead of 89, adding just another four runs before the Firebirds wrapped it up on 356, Arnel’s 5-95 his career best figures for the Birds and his 10th five-wicket bag overall.
Henry ripped into action early with the ball, opening with a wicket maiden as he had Michael Papps caught for no score: 0/1. By lunch the Firebirds were two down after Henry had taken out fellow opener Joon, but Stephen Murdoch (71) and Michael Pollard settled things down for the third wicket before Murdoch kicked on with James Franklin (52) to get them to 132/4.
By day’s end the Firebirds held a lead of 112, but with only three wickets in hand a day to play the ball would appear to be in Canterbury’s court.
Todd Astle promptly wrapped up the Firebirds’ innings on 263 to collect his eighth Plunket Shield five-for, but the Canterbury team’s buoyant mood was promptly put in check as they made a disastrous start with the bat.
The visitors were 10/2 at the Basin after Ili Tugaga got Ronnie Hira for a duck and wily Brent Arnel induced a catch from Peter Fulton.
In his following over, Arnel struck again, taking out Neil Broom to have a two-for in four balls. Another few blinks and he was sitting on 3-12 as he put in-form youngster Henry Nicholls back in the shed, too — caught behind for the second duck of the innings.
At 48/4 it was jarring stuff for Canterbury, but nerves settled as Andy Ellis showed his experience in calmly setting about a recovery, and at a good clip. He put on 79 for the sixth wicket with Astle, then was well supported throughout the last session by young keeper Freddie Anderson, who made his highest first-class score as Ellis nailed his fourth Plunket Shield century.
By then, Canterbury needed only a couple of dozen or so runs to match the Firebirds’ tally, and at stumps held a lead of 17, Ellis unbeaten on 133 and no wickets falling in the session.
Two debutants in the Wellington Firebirds’ side emphasised it was time for a fresh start as the torrid business of the Plunket Shield returned to the Basin.
After his white-ball feats with both and bat and ball, on his first-class debut Kiwi-Australian spinner Alecz Day needed little introduction to his opponents, but Deepak Joon may have been a less familiar name outside Wellington. The 32-year-old left-hand opening batsman made his first-class debut for Haryana in India: this was his first game for Wellington, and first first-class cap since playing for Haryana in 2007.
Sent in, Joon brought a truckload of determination to the middle as he cast himself into the role of patient anchor. Michael Papps fell on the stroke of noon, trapped by Andy Ellis, but the Wellington hundred came up without further loss in the 44th over and Murdoch brought up the 100-run partnership for the second wicket with a boundary off Todd Astle, shortly after both men had reached their half-century.
Joon’s first-up effort lasted over four and a half hours, but was eventually ended by Ryan McCone, who had him caught by Henry Nicholls on 55 in the penultimate over before tea. The Firebirds 159/2, Astle then stormed into the third session, taking his 200th first-class wicket when he got Pollard thanks to an outstanding catch at slip by his skipper Peter Fulton. Then he got Murdoch in his following over, too — again snaffled by Fulton; before taking out Firebirds captain James Franklin caught and bowled for the addition of only one further run.
Rather than getting defensive at five down, Tom Blundell and Day took a positive approach - Day hooking Kyle Jamieson for six early on - but their blossoming 70-run stand was stopped in the 91st over as Ellis collected his second wicket in Day, who was out trying to hook another one all the way. Again, Canterbury dampened things down with a double breakthrough. Blundell fell to McCone five balls later, leaving Luke Woodcock and Matt McEwan to see out the last half-dozen overs, the hosts 245/7 at stumps.
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