The empire has struck back today in Oamaru.
A fast-paced, action-packed Hawke Cup challenge saw the coveted Cup change hands yet again in this eventful season after feisty North Otago could not fend off the raiders from the North.
Fortified with first-class players on their first ever trip to Oamaru, Hawke's Bay confidently took on North Otago — the second smallest Hawke Cup region in the country, yet was left needing an outright win to take the Cup from the defenders after North Otago had bowled them out for just 122.
North Otago then took a three-run first innings lead, plus a couple of quick second innings wickets for good measure, to head into the second day: a promising start to their first defence since taking the Cup off Buller.
But Hawke's Bay came out with a vengeance this morning, peppering the pickets with boundaries in front of a strong, noisy and staunch North Otago turnout at Oamaru's Milner Park.
The challengers fared much better in their second dig, piling on 248 runs for more than two sessions, despite dangerman Francois Mostert bagging another four-for to match his first innings effort; including trapping dangerous Indy Senarathne, a Ford Trophy winner with the Central Stags this year, on 36 swiped from just 25 balls.
Bay captain Jacob Smith top-scored with 79 off 101 before he was bowled by his opposing skipper, while the tail wagged with a handy 10th-wicket partnership of 66 between "GC" Pretorius (59 off 84) and Liam Dudding (an unbeaten 18) that helped swell the total from 182/9 to 248 all out.
So, they had set North Otago a stiff chase of 246 to hold onto their precious silverware, and it proved more than enough as Hawke's Bay's bowling attack swiftly scythed through their hosts at the end of the day to dismiss them for 93 in just 42 overs, claiming the Cup with a 152-run outright — and a day to spare.
The Bay's Angus Schaw, one of two brothers in the side, had a field day, cleaning up the back half of the order for a quick 4-20 off just six overs; he also took the catch that had removed North Otago number four Stephan Grobler, off GC Pretorius.
North Otago succinctly tweeted their reaction to the result, which was:
New holders Hawke's Bay will now face a stern challenge from the Zone 1 winner — and recent Hawke Cup rulers — Bay of Plenty, on March 11. A strong feeder team to the SKYCITY Northern Knights, Bay of Plenty last held the Hawke Cup from January 2013 to February 2014.
The venue for the final challenge of the season is to be confirmed by Central Districts Cricket.
Penguins don’t muck around.
North Otago’s first defence of the season in Oamaru saw the opposition, the big boys from Hawke’s Bay, into their second innings by the end of day one.
Twenty-two wickets had fallen at Milner Park — and in the midst of the hurly burley, it was the hosts who had claimed the first goal of a first innings lead.
It was a lead of just three runs, but a lead is a lead and, in the unlikely event of a weather-diminished draw, it would be enough to keep the Hawke Cup in Oamaru.
An outright is far more likely, and the questions are how soon, and whose?
Right-armer Francois Mostert, the bowling hero of the battle against Buller, was quickly in the thick of the action again after North Otago's captain Jordan Horrell won the toss for him.
Mostert started by having Bay opener Matt Edmondson caught in the seventh over of the morning, and would bookend the first innings with the wicket of tailender Liam Dudding to claim 4-65 from a smidgen over 13 overs.
Meanwhile, Smith and Ben Cant had both picked up three-fors as Hawke’s Bay went south to 100/7 by lunch.
The eighth wicket then fell first over after the break before Devon Hotel Central Stags Ajaz Patel and Kurt Richards combined in a ninth wicket stand for the last 22 runs of the innings.
The fancied Hawke’s Bay outfit had been upended for 122 all out, but the Bay would soon show they could return serve in this kind of carry on, forcing North Otago from 72/3 to 102/8 — ever so fractionally ahead on the comparison scores.
A nervous shiver went through the home supporters when Horrell was run out by Patel on 14, the hosts still 20 shy of the first innings target.
But again it was a ninth-wicket pairing to the rescue, if not a full scale emergency callout.
Lachie Kingan and keeper Andrew Grubb steadied the ship for another three overs — long enough to add a valuable 18 runs. Grubb kept going to nudge North Otago ahead, before he became right-arm legspinner Giliam “GC” Pretorius’s sixth and final victim of the innings: all out for 125, Pretorius staking claim to the figures of the day with his 6-39.
Hawke's Bay now needs an outright if it is to get the Hawke Cup back to the North Island, but was two wickets down by stumps — including that of Patel, who had come in as nightwatchman.
They will begin day two of a fast-moving challenge at 13/2, for a 10-run overall lead, while Mostert sits on 2-9 overnight.
The forecast is good.