Canterbury became back-to-back winners of the Plunket Shield after a stunning rout of the Knights

Sensational twist as Canterbury defends the Plunket Shield

Plunket Shield last round: SKYCITY Northern Knights 256/8 declared in 73.5 overs (Popli 51, Devcich 68, Santner 44) and 101 all out in 53.1 overs (Nuttall career best 6-35) lost to Canterbury 213/8 declared in 64.1 overs (Broom 50, Nicholls 71, Astle 36 not out; Aldridge 3-70, Kuggeleijn 3-47) and 150/1 in 17.3 overs (Fletcher 37 not out, Fulton 91 not out) by nine wickets at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui

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Watch the highlights reel as first-class champions Canterbury rout the SKYCITY Northern Knights for the title:

DAY THREE

After a dew-delayed start, there was a dramatic first session at the Mount as Canterbury hurled themselves right back on course for a title defence by claiming all 10 SKYCITY Northern Knights wickets in the morning session — the first eight of them in the space of just 23 overs.

Ed Nuttall had taken four before he zeroed in on Ish Sodhi for his potentially Shield-winning five-wicket bag, also his maiden first-class five-for; his figures 5-33 when Sodhi grimaced at being caught behind off the glove by his good mate Cameron Fletcher.

Ed Nuttall took his maiden five-for at the best possible time for his team

Domestic Player of the Year Andy Ellis had backed up Nuttall with a couple of wickets of his own, but it was a scene-stealing performance from the 21-year-old. He wrapped up the Knights' horror episode with his first ball of the 54th over, getting last man Jimmy Baker caught by Neil Broom for a career best 6-45.

Makeshift opener Joe Carter's 29 was the highest score in the Knights' sorry scorecard: now Canterbury, defending champs, needed just 145 runs to retain the Plunket Shield.

As Graeme Aldridge opened the bowling for the Knights for one last time in his career, a confident Ronnie Hira made a screaming start to the title chase, peeling two boundaries and a six off Aldridge's opener, which cost 16 runs in all. Two balls later Hira was gone, Canterbury 17/1 as Anton Devcich pocketed the catch off Scott Kuggeleijn, but it would be the last wicket that would fall.

Canterbury captain Peter Fulton slammed seven sixes in his unbeaten 91, which came off just 53 balls — chiefly as he and the youngster Fletcher (37 off 46) charged towards the final victory post for Canterbury's first successful defence of the Plunket Shield since the 1997/98 season. Fulton had taken three jubilant sixes and two fours off Kuggeleijn in the previous over, now, with one run required for the Shield, Fletcher did the honours with a last six off Sodhi, the chase completed inside 18 overs.

They had put the finishing touches on a strong campaign with a nine-wicket win, completed with more than a day and a session to spare.

Finishing the back end of the competition with a series of outrights and only one upset loss, Canterbury also became the first team since the Mondiale Auckland Aces in 2002/03 to win the Plunket Shield in successive seasons.

Canterbury coach (and former player) Gary Stead and victorious captain Peter Fulton

Not only was the decisive match the final first-class appearance by record-breaking 37-year-old Knights paceman and 2011 BLACKCAP Graeme Aldridge, but it also marked the retirement of umpire Gary "Ghosty" Baxter.

 

In a fine tribute, the players from both teams had formed a guard of honour for Baxter as they all headed into the final session.

DAY TWO

As if nerves weren't on edge enough already, rain postponed proceedings early on day two, with no play in the morning session and an early lunch taken at 12.30pm. By early in the last session, Canterbury had declared at 213/8 — giving the SKYCITY Northern Knights a taste of their own medicine by denying the hosts the opportunity to gun for a fourth bowling point.

The maths put Canterbury on 110 points after the first innings, the Knights on 98 and capable of achieving 110 max, if they take an outright. Order on the table is then determined by number of wins (Canterbury and the Knights would be equal if the Knights won), then net runs per wicket (Canterbury best placed). Meanwhile, in Auckland, an outright to the Aces would take them to at least 113 points, while if the Volts took that match, they would have at least 109 — both teams presently in with a hope, being still in the process of hunting remaining first innings bonus points. Stay tuned.

OK, so what happened in the cricket, you ask... Henry Nicholls (71) collected his seventh first-class half-century of the season for Canterbury, and Neil Broom his fourth, before Graeme Aldridge stopped the latter on exactly 50, the veteran seamer's third scalp of the innings.

Named New Zealand's Domestic Player of the Year at the previous evening's ANZ New Zealand Cricket Awards, Andy Ellis put on 41 with Nicholls before he was trapped lbw by Jimmy Baker, then Todd Astle hung around for an unbeaten 36 as his captain Peter Fulton's thoughts moved from building a significant total to strategically denying the Knights any further wickets. He declared 43 runs behind.

When bad light ended play, Brad Wilson and Joe Carter had cautiously teased out the Knights' lead to 90, for no loss. Needing an outright to be sure of defending the Plunket Shield, Canterbury will be anxious not to let their opponents get away on them tomorrow.

DAY ONE

Hosting the competition leaders on their own turf and desperate to shut them out, the SKYCITY Northern Knights were in for an action-packed first day in the streaming sunshine of the Mount, as Bay Oval made its first-class debut as a venue.

At stumps on day one Canterbury was 76/3 after the Knights had made a strategic declaration at 256/8, denying Canterbury the opportunity to pick up a ninth wicket and therefore a fourth bowling bonus point inside the 110-over cut off point.

In fact, the Knights had batted just 73.5 overs for a single batting bonus, but with an outright required perhaps the focus was on moving the game along smartly. The price? It cost them the opportunity to chase one more batting point, one that could prove vital to their title chances.

Peter Fulton had won the toss for Canterbury and relished the prospect of sending in the Knights given that they were without a trio of trump batsmen — regular captain Daniel Flynn, stand-in skipper and BLACKCAP BJ Watling and triple centurion Dean Brownlie all lost to the clutch match due to injury.

That saw local lad Bharat Popli recalled to wield his bat, Anton Devcich assuming the captaincy. After the Knights got off to a shaky start, three of their top four gone cheaply, the pair combined well to each register half-centuries, which for Devcich was a remarkable fifth fifty or better on the trot.

This time around he found eight fours and a six, and put on a quick 90 with Mitchell Santner (44 off 67 balls) for the fifth wicket after Popli's account at first drop was closed on 51.

The Knights were 218/6 at tea and following the declaration made good early inroads into Canterbury, seamer Graeme Aldridge taking two quick wickets to shock Canterbury to 4/2 late in the day, including the useful Fulton caught for just two runs.

Seamer Graeme Aldridge cracked the top off the Canterbury innings in his last first-class match

Their celebrations weren't done as Scott Kuggeleijn then bowled Ronnie Hira to have Canterbury 76/3 at stumps, trailing by 180 with Neil Broom (36*) and Henry Nicholls (20*) holding the red and black fort at stumps.

 

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