CENTRAL STAGS v WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS
Saxton Oval, Nelson
First innings bonus points
Bowling: Wellington Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved), Central Stags 2 (completed)
Batting: Central Stags 0 (completed), Wellington Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved)
RESULT: Match drawn
The greentop of day one now a distant memory, the Wellington Firebirds needed to dig deep as they continued their hunt for second innings Stags wickets on a far more placid surface.
No wickets fell in the opening session, Kieran Noema-Barnett reaching his half century before the break and Dane Cleaver just tree runs short of his own fifty at 271 for three.
The pair had just knocked off the last of the Firebirds' first innings lead, the scores tied at the break with seven Stags second innings wickets in hand and two sessions left for the Firebirds to try to chip them out with enough time for an outright.
Noema-Barnett (76) and Cleaver (75* after 6.3 hours at the crease) would put on 137 together against a dogged Firebirds effort, before Malcolm Nofal finally got Noema-Barnett caught behind at 300 for four. It was a classic last-afternoon battle, and a classic Stags-Firebirds match after a similarly tense clash at the Basin last summer, albeit in on a very different surface.
Seasoned County and Plunket Shield campaigner Noema-Barnett had batted for almost four and a half hours, crucial occupation with Cleaver to frustrate their opponents on a long afternoon. At tea the captains shook hands, the Stags remaining top of the table and extending the CDCA record to 21 first-class games without a defeat. More importantly, their $60,000 title defence remained in excellent shape midway through the 2018/19 championship, which will resume in February after the upcoming Burger King Super Smash.
Dean Foxcroft chalked up another achievement in his debut summer with the 20-year-old former South Africa Under-19 captain claiming his maiden five-wicket bag with just his third innings in the Plunket Shield.
Foxcroft (below) had been made to work for it, though, by the Firebirds, bowling 29 overs as the tail added more and more runs to a solid first innings tally on what was now a sun-drenched Nelson oval.
Three boundaries and two sixes had helped Jeetan Patel reach 42 before Foxcroft snared his bag (5-67), a 73-run stand for the eighth wicket that helped push the Firebirds out to a hefty 429.
Trailing by 271 on the first innings, hosts the Stags would need to reply in kind. George Worker and Greg Hay safely negotiated the first 10 overs of the second dig before lunch, with Worker taking the initiative after the break in a good little battle with Jeetan Patel.
But second change Iain McPeake got the breakthrough, Worker adjudged caught behind on 35 after a 59-run opening stand. By tea there had been no further loss with Brad Schmulian producing a quick 55* and anchorman Hay inching towards his own half century on 43*, the deficit down to 132.
Hamish Bennett got the second breakthrough after tea, Schmulian bowled on 60 with the Stags still 124 in arrears. Dane Cleaver joined Hay (45*) at 147 for two.
Hay also reached a half century but became a big wicket as Ollie Newton trapped him with a yorker at 163 for three shortly afterwards. Hay had eaten up almost four hours at the crease with his patient stickability, Kieran Noema-Barnett replacing him with the deficit now almost down to double figures.
By stumps the Stags had reached 184 for three, Cleaver and Noema-Barnett taking a fledgling 21-run stand into the last day, still trailing by 87.
Yesterday's morbid skies and showers had gone as the sun dawned on a fine second day for cricket at Saxton Oval in the high stakes clash between the Stags and Firebirds.
Overnight batsman Rachin Ravindra's Firebirds career got off to a sound start as the young opener chalked up a half century in the morning session, before tucking into his ninth boundary to bring up a century stand with Luke Woodcock.
Almost half his opening partner's age, Ravindra had already played five first-class fixtures this season against Pakistan A in UAE and India A in New Zealand for a high score of 70 on debut in UAE, and an aggregate of 196 runs at 32.66. Now he went past his previous best in his first match with the yellow and black badge on his jersey.
However, he would become the first wicket to fall as off-spinning batsman Dean Foxcroft entered the attack in the 40th over and struck with his third delivery, Ravindra caught by George Worker for an impressive 82.
Devon Conway joined Woodcock on 44* with the Firebirds trailing by just 27 runs. The pair made a cautious start together with Tickner coming back into the attack before Woodcock reached his half century before getting the Firebirds' 150 on the board shortly before lunch: another session chalked up to the visitors.
However, the Stags struck back after the break with Kieran Noema-Barnett getting Woodcock caught on 64, the Firebirds having just nudged into a three-run lead as Michael Bracewell joined Conway on 10*.
Conway marched on in the middle session until he was just one stroke away from a half century, but Willem Ludick (above) stopped him in his tracks at 210 for three, then trapped Tom Blundell for a duck a few overs later. Bracewell was already on a start as the Firebirds reached their first batting bonus, joined now by Jimmy Neesham who quickly went on the offence.
Neesham had reached 36* at run-a-ball pace by tea, the Firebirds 272 for four with a lead now of 114. He flew onward to his half century in the last session but was immediately out, Noema-Barnett striking again before two good shouts from Dean Foxcroft slowed down the Firebirds' afternoon somewhat.
The Firebirds will enter moving day at 368 for seven, a first-innings lead of 210 while the Stags will be keen on early wickets to check any further damage. Given Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell remains unbeaten on 72*, that may not go to plan if he can find tailend support.
A big clash between unbeaten Plunket Shield leaders the Stags and arch rivals the Firebirds got off to an action-packed start in Nelson as the first-class championship reached its midway point. Very quickly it had looked like a bad toss to lose for the Stags as they found themselves minus both openers at 0-2, having been sent in on a Saxton Oval greentop under humid and cloud-stricken skies.
Coming off a marathon double century in Central Otago, captain Greg Hay lasted just six balls before Hamish Bennett was celebrating, while George Worker’s first appearance of the season for his domestic team saw him caught behind next over as Ollie Newton picked up a wicket maiden of his own.
After a demanding half hour, showers arrived to give the Stags, at seven for two, a chance to reset, with no further play possible before lunch, and a ground delay after it before Brad Schmulian and Tom Bruce began taking on Ritchie and Bennett anew.
A change brought Bruce’s downfall, however, as he skied a catch behind with a mistimed pull. Bruce had reached 29, while Schmulian was into his second hour at the crease and just into double figures as he was joined by Dane Cleaver.
Schmulian would end up holding the fort after Bennett trapped Cleaver. The shouts had kept coming, Kieran Noema-Barnett — also coming off a century in Central — then edging Jimmy Neesham to leave Schmulian with young Dean Foxcroft in his second first-class appearance at 93 for five.
Schmulian had battled to a patient 38* and would be just one shy of a patient half century at tea, but departed first ball after the break, trapped plumb by McPeake at 115 for six.
Foxcroft followed, caught behind off Bennett next over. Bennett then produced a double wicket maiden in the 49th, claiming Willem Ludick and Navin Patel in space of three deliveries to claim his sixth first-class five-wicket bag and 3-9 off the spell.
Rolled for 158 in 54.6 overs, the Stags took the ball in the last session with 17 overs left in the day in which to attempt to give the Firebirds a taste of their own medicine, 19-year-old debutant Rachin Ravindra (below) opening the batting for the first-time with 36-year-old veteran Luke Woodcock.
However, the frustrating day continued for the hosts as the Firebirds pair put on 54* for the first wicket, ready to resume on 28* and 24* respectively.
The match is Central Stags seamer Ryan McCone’s 50th first-class game.