The SKYCITY Northern Knights put a massive ding in the Central Stags' antlers, if not sawing them off completely, with a 284-run outright on the final day in Napier — with their fourth largest Plunket Shield winning margin in term of runs.
The Stags were always up against it, having been five down in the morning session, including the loss of nightwatchman Navin Patel.
That brought George Worker and Tom Bruce together, but the quick loss of Bruce saw the Stags go deeper into their bunker at 60/6 before lunch, still a whopping 378 behind.
Worker was in no mood to go down without a fight, and would be the last man standing for a dogged, unbeaten 34, off 100 balls, by the time Scott Kuggeleijn finally wrapped it up, shortly after 4pm, by taking out Blair Tickner at the other end. The Stags had been routed for 153, even a couple of hours of wet weather unable to save them.
Kuggeleijn walked off with a handsome haul of 4-25 to make it eight wickets for the match. But the chief damage had undoubtedly been done by the Knights' trio of centurions, who helped their side recover, ultimately in crushing style, from a nightmare beginnig to their match.
Spinner Josef Walker had replaced Ish Sodhi for the last day for the SKYCITY Northern Knights, following Sodhi's departure for the BLACKCAPS.
The Knights are third on the Plunket Shield table on 37 points, 23 behind joint frontrunners the Aces and the Firebirds. The winless Stags are in fifth spot on 25 points, with six rounds to come.
At stumps: Devon Hotel Central Stags 28/2 (second innings) require 410 to win after the SKYCITY Northern Knights declared at 425/7 (Ish Sodhi 62, Bharat Popli 133, Anton Devcich 36, Daryl Mitchell 100 not out off 119 balls; Blair Tickner 3-89)
Nightwatchman from day two, Ish Sodhi provided a valuable contribution at four to kickstart an emphatic third day for the SKYCITY Northern Knights in Napier. He helped take the Knights out to a 131-run lead by drinks in the first session, and his ultimate 62 flew off just 85 balls, including eight fours and six before he was trapped by Seth Rance for the Stags seamer's first strike in the second innings.
Sodhi, who has now been called into the BLACKCAPS ODI squad as cover for teammate Mitchell Santner, had combined with the productive Bay of Plenty accumulator Bharat Popli.
Popli had fallen just short of a half ton in the first dig and now entered the accounting in the 24th over, after paceman Navin Patel had Joe Carter caught, the third wicket falling on 70 for the visitors.
By lunch the Knights were 179/4, Popli posting his half century off 84 balls shortly after the break. At drinks in the middle session, Popli had reached 85, latterly supported by Daryl Mitchell to take the score through to 257 for five, Blair Tickner having removed Anton Devcich, caught on 36.
It was going to prove a rough afternoon for Tickner. The watchful Popli kept going, posting his second career first-class century, to go with his maiden earlier this season, with a four off George Worker; by which time he'd helped fashion a lead of 299 with five still in hand. He would end with a career best 133, 15 boundaries among them after more than four hours at work and a 98-run stand with Daryl Mitchell.
But the Knights were far from done. Mitchell was batting down at seven, far lower than the classy Hamiltonian would have been found in most seasons. As long as someone could stick with him, that spelt danger.
The first fifty of Mitchell's fourth first-class century arrived in 102 balls: a decent first-class tempo in itself.
Then he simply exploded. Mitchell's astonishing back fifty flew off just 17 balls and, as he reached his ton, the Knights declared with huge grins on their faces at 425 for seven. He'd slammed eight boundaries and four sixes in all.
Scott Kuggeleijn had been the man to stick with him. Together they helped themselves to 92 from just 56 balls, Tickner left stunned as Mitchell put the foot on the gas and ensured the right-armer went for 25 from a single over.
The declaration meant the Stags would need to finish the game with a tough 438 runs in order to stop the rampaging visitors from any more celebrations at their expense.
But Ish Sodhi and then Kuggeleijn ended a strong day for the northerners with identical returns of 4-1-7-1, having taken out Dean Robinson (caught by Tim Southee) and Ben Smith (caught by Sodhi) in a disastrous eight overs before stumps for the embattled Stags.
At stumps: SKYCITY Northern Knights 61/2 (second innings) lead the Devon Hotel Central Stags 256 (Greg Hay 43, Dane Cleaver career best 66 not out, Seth Rance 52; Scott Kuggeleijn 4-82) by 73 runs after day two at McLean Park, Napier on Waitangi Day 2016
Once again it was a wicketkeeper-batsman to the rescue. The Stags fell just a dozen runs shy of knocking off the Knights’ first innings total thanks to a career-best effort from Dane Cleaver, who walked to the middle with his generally impressive batting side in a mess at 87 for five.
Scott Kuggeleijn (4-82) had done the damage in his opening spell, operating at first change after Tim Southee and taking care of both opening batsmen, Ben Smith and Dean Robinson, caught behind; before coming back in to remove Greg Hay when the first drop had made it to 43.
Seamer Jimmy Baker then struck a big couple of blows by having the dangerous pair of George Worker and captain Will Young back in the hut in quick succession.
Enter Dane Cleaver, who would not suffer the same fate as he went unbeaten through to the close of the innings. Crucially his contribution of 66 was supported by a tailend fighter in Seth Rance.
Rance has a first-class career high score of 71 and this time delivered a startling 52 off just 39 balls, including six boundaries and three sixes before he was finally caught off Anton Devcich.
Legspinner Ish Sodhi then closed in on the final two batsmen to end the Stags’ defiance on 256.
But it would be short-lived ebullience for the Knights, who lost two at the top in their 21 overs before stumps — local Stag Blair Tickner claiming both Dean Brownlie and Daniel Flynn to have the Knights at 50 for two, ushering in Sodhi for the close of play.
At stumps: SKYCITY Northern Knights 268 (Bharat Popli 48, Tim Seifert 106, Scott Kuggeleijn 45; Seth Rance 3-61, Bevan Small 3-43) at McLean Park, Napier on 5 February 2016
Young SKYCITY Northern Knights wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Seifert chose the perfect time to find his maiden first-class century.
Batting at seven, Seifert entered the fray when the Knights were in deep trouble at just 55 for five in their first innings, after having been sent in by the Stags at McLean Park only to suffer three wicket maidens in a row inside the first five overs.
Yet Seifert would go on to make a measured 106 in the Knights' tally of 268 all out, including nine fours and a six off Seth Rance, the delightful way in which he raised his ton. He's taken a boundary off Rance the previous ball, too, to shoot through the 90s.
Moreover, he showed crucial patience, hanging around for 190 balls to let others bat around him, and taking 177 deliveries to reach the three figures for the first time.
Seamers Seth Rance and Bevan Small meanwhile had relished the conditions and drove home the pressure. Rance had opened with Navin Patel to have the Knights in disarray at 10 for four after just eight overs in the first hour.
Besides Seifert, fellow youngsters Bharat Popli (46) and Scott Kuggeleijn (45) ultimately came to their side's rescue, number four Popli playing an important role in steadying the carnage.
Seifert shared a crucial stand of 57 with Popli, then 92 with Kuggeleijn, who had joined him on 28, before being finally removed by Small. By then, the young cohort had stretched the score out to 267 for nine.
Small nevertheless finished with impressive figures: 3-43 from 18 overs, with the calm destroyer Rance close behind him with a haul of 3-61 off 23. Navin Patel assisted with 2-54, George Worker claiming his 50th first-class wicket when he dismissed Jimmy Baker to close the Knights' account.
The Stags are set to begin their first innings on day two.