The Wellington Firebirds clung on for a draw in their First-Class match against the Auckland Aces at Hawkins Basin Reserve in Wellington, as the home side finished the day with two wickets in hand and 67 runs short of their target.
Auckland had earlier been dismissed for 345 to set Wellington a tough target of 266 in 51 overs. Despite a spirited 86 from opener Josh Brodie, the Firebirds were on the back-foot early having lost cheap wickets.
Chris Martin ripped through the top order to have them reeling at 53 for three and give the Aces a very real opportunity at victory.
However, Luke Woodcock (26), Luke Ronchi (36) and Harry Boam (24*) showed just enough resistance to make sure that Auckland wouldn’t walk away with the outright victory.
Chris Martin finished with three for 26, while Bruce Martin also claimed three wickets and Michael Bates two.
Earlier, Gareth Hopkins had resumed on 95 with the bat and wasted little time in bringing up his 16th First-Class century. It came under a pressure situation and could well have saved the match for the Aces.
The tail chimed in nicely and made sure that the Firebirds would well and truly have their work cut out for them if they were to pick up anything more than a draw.
Although it wasn’t easy for him, Mark Gillespie was rewarded for another top-notch performance with the ball and went one better than he’d done in the first-innings with a six wicket-bag in the second.
The wily fast bowler claimed his second ever ten wicket-bag match and had career best First-Class figures of 11 for 149. He caused constant problems for the Aces and proved just what a valuable asset he it to the Firebirds.
While there were a number of brilliant individual performance throughout the match, neither side could quite land the knock-out blow.
Day three: Evenly poised at Hawkins Basin Reserve
Neither team holds a distinct advantage at the end of day three of the Plunket Shield match between the Auckland Aces and Wellington Firebirds, with the Aces holding a lead of 173 runs with five wickets in hand.
Luke Ronchi’s brilliant innings came to an end earlier in the day on 135, leading the Firebirds to a first-innings lead of 60 and total of 426. Harry Boam chipped in with 32 towards the end and made sure that his side would hold a small advantage.
Kyle Mills took two further wickets to finish the innings with figures of three for 26 from 8.2 overs.
All the pressure was then on Auckland to hold their nerve with the bat and opener Michael Barry stood up to the task brilliantly. Alongside captain Gareth Hopkins the pair put on 115 for the fourth wicket, with both bringing up valuable half-centuries.
At 150 for three they seemed to be cruising, but two runs later disaster struck when a mix up saw Barry run out for 77. It was a disappointing way for the First-Class debutant to go out and it left a considerable amount of pressure on Hopkins.
Unsurprisingly, the ever-consistent captain was more than capable of carrying the load.
Despite the loss of Colin de Grandhomme for 36, the Aces finished the day in a strong position at 233 for five, with Hopkins not out on 95. The 36 year-old will resume tomorrow with Dusan Hakaraia on nought and be looking to bring up his 16th First-Class century.
In terms of the Firebirds bowling attack, one man once again dominated – Mark Gillespie. The warrior like 33 year-old has taken four of the five wickets in the innings to date and needs just one more dismissal to make it a ten wicket match.
An intriguing final day looms…
Day two: Ronchi to the rescue
Few number elevens are more phlegmatic than Chris Martin when it comes to their batting tribulations, but the veteran Auckland swing bowler was left kicking himself this morning after he survived just three deliveries before being caught behind off Ili Tugaga for the umpteenth duck of his career. The pity was not Martin's own fate so much as that of his batting partner, Colin de Grandhomme - stranded on 99 as the Aces were bundled away for 346 inside the 110-over cut-off, handing the Firebirds maximum bowling bonus points.
Martin's wicket had been but one of a cluster that saw the Aces lose their last five men for 22 runs, Mark Gillespie and Tugaga joining forces to blast through the tail. Gillespie finished with 5-66 - his 16th first-class five-for; and the strapping Tugaga 3-63.
The Aces then failed to make early inroads into the Firebirds' line-up, with Papps securing a half-century and a 78-run partnership with Josh Brodie (40). But if the visitors were more satisfied by tea - by which point the Firebirds were 167/4, Luke Ronchi having just joined Woodcock; their mood had turned again by stumps, Ronchi having spent the session blazing to his 11th first-class century, fourth Plunket Shield hundred this season and his second of the summer against the Auckland Aces.
Supported by Woodcock's 37 and Jesse Ryder's cameo 34, Ronchi simply took charge of the attack, racing to his hundred off 93 balls to push the Wellingtonians into a 22-run lead, 368/6 at stumps with Ronchi unbeaten on 120.
Day one: Aces look to dominate
Despite losing the toss, the Auckland Aces' batsmen started solidly against the HELL Wellington Firebirds to be sitting pretty at 319/5 by stumps on day one.
Patient debutant opener Michael Barry underpinned the morning session, his batting partner Michael Guptill-Bunce (36) the first to lose his wicket when he was caught off Jesse Ryder shortly before lunch.
Resuming at 77/1, Barry had just seen the Auckland 100 raised and was on the verge of a first-up half-century when he became the next to fall, caught by Michael Papps off Harry Boam for 49 - but with a platform firmly laid, Anaru Kitchen was able to take charge and raced to a scintillating 95 before he became the first of Mark Gillespie's two wickets of the afternoon.
Kitchen had shared a promising 64-run third wicket stand with Craig Cachopa, but following the loss of Cachopa and, after tea, Gareth Hopkins, the highlight of the day was a cracking fifth-wicket partnership with Colin de Grandhomme, who smacked four sixes en route to his overnight score of 81 off 85 balls.
The Aces will resume at 319/5, the Firebirds no doubt hoping they can inflict some early retribution in the morning.