PLUNKET SHIELD | ROUND EIGHT OF EIGHT
Northern Districts defeated Central Stags by 142 runs at Seddon Park, Hamilton, 17-20 March 2019
Central Stags won the 2018/19 Plunket Shield championship
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First innings bonus points:
Batting: Northern Districts 0 (completed), Central Stags 2 (completed)
Bowling: Central Stags 4 (maximum achieved), Northern Districts 4 (maximum achieved)
Final points: ND 16, Central Stags 6
The final day of the 2018/19 season began with a Northern Districts declaration at Seddon Park, setting the Central Stags a target of 377 from three sessions that would ultimately prove too great against a strong ND attack and some sharp fielding.
However, a finger injury to wicketkeeper Tim Seifert at the end of the first over almost immediately put a dampener on the hosts' last day. Seifert was temporarily replaced behind the stumps by Joe Carter as Peter Bocock was called to Seddon Park to stand in. Seifert took no further part in the match, his dislocated right little finger later revealed to be fractured.
Wicketkeeping distraction aside, Scott Kuggeleijn made an early breakthrough with George Worker caught at 20 for one, and ND would have a big second wicket just inside the first hour with Stags captain Greg Hay trapped by James Baker.
Hay's dismissal on 13 meant he would finish with 633 runs for the competition, in second place on the national run aggregates for the season. Evergreen Hay also finished in second spot last summer: the Stags' most consistent batsman for two summers, and now with a dearly treasured red-ball title in his first season as captain.
When Ish Sodhi had Ben Smith caught, he snuck past Wellington Firebird Hamish Bennett as the top wicket-taker nationally, with 33. Unfortunately for the Stags, that number would increase in the last session.
Three overs later, spin twin Mitch Santner had Tom Bruce back in the hutch: 53 for four before lunch, bringing Dane Cleaver and Kieran Noema-Barnett together fresh at the crease, and still more than 300 runs required. ND was on track to finish with heads held high — particularly after Sodhi struck again. An unwell Cleaver had toughed out a difficult 45 minutes before lunch, then had the misfortune to be given LBW at 79 for five, bringing Doug Bracewell to the middle in the 31st over.
By tea, the experienced duo of Bracewell and Noema-Barnett was still there after the humid middle session, the Stags needing to preserve wickets to avoid a rare defeat. Noema-Barnett had reached 79 not out and Bracewell 25 not out in an 86-run partnership for the sixth wicket, no loss in the session. A further 212 runs still stood between the Stags and ND in the scoresheets, however, keeping ND well in the game.
The last time Noema-Barnett had won the Plunket Shield, he had been the captain, six years previously in the 2012/13 season. Now the 31-year-old former County player raised his bat for his fourth first-class century, all for the Stags, in his 87th match, bringing up the three figures with a six as he kept calmy on the job to save the match.
Noema-Barnett's career best was 108, but he would fall four runs shy, at 200 for six in the final session. With a cushion of runs, ND kept attacking into the late afternoon, and the tail began to falter.
With just a handful of overs left in the day, the Stags were down to their last pair and it was a tough assignment for their number 11 against the likes of Santner, Sodhi and Kuggeleijn. ND would shortly become the second team this season to inflict a rare defeat on the Stags.
Sodhi, with 4-99, took the final wicket as ND went up in delight, but a watching Stags captain Greg Hay could be content with a rare feat: winning the Hawke Cup (with Nelson) and Plunket Shield as captain in the same season; the first Stags team to win Burger King Super Smash T20 and Plunket Shield in the same season, and the first defence of the first-class national championship for the team since the 1960s, before Hay was born.
Not a bad send-off at all for their outgoing coach Heinrich Malan.
Drizzle caused a half-hour delay to the start of the third morning, but the freshness didn't translate into much assistance for Central's seamers as they continued to look to prise apart Northern's second-innings opening stand. They would have to do so without Seth Rance, however, who had been missing since the first innings with a pulled quadriceps. It would prove a long day in the dirt for the season champions.
In the event, it was spinner Ajaz Patel who soon came on and found the breakthrough, Daniel Flynn caught on 53. Patel, too, was in for a long day in the office, but would eventually reach his 200th first-class wicket for the Stags in Plunket Shield cricket.
Henry Cooper carried on post-Flynn to his own patient half century, and began work on a prosperous new stand with Dean Brownlie.
The Stags' attack meanwhile kept their lines tight, and came close a couple of times, but couldn't find the wickets as the morning began to warm up and drag on. Suddenly, on the stroke of lunch, Cooper (78) heard his pole being knocked out back onto the grass, Tom Bruce picking up a reasonably rare first-class wicket, and in an even more delightful manner for the part-time spinner.
Northern Districts headed in at 189 for two, leading by 102 now with Brownlie on 49*.
Brownlie soon eased to his fifty (108 balls) after lunch, and Joe Carter had the ND 200 on the board soon after, still with eight in hand and the sun now burning down on Seddon Park.
The Stags took the new ball, but the return of Ajaz Patel just 10 overs down the track saw Brownlie down the track himself, blasting two sixes in the space of three balls to belt ahead to 75.
Carter was in on the action next, lifting Blair Tickner over point for his first six in a fast-developing knock. The pair would reach their 100-run stand off just 125 balls. Carter already had his half century at a good clip, while Brownlie paced himself towards three figures, spending a lengthy spell in the nineties picking off the odd run here and there.
The next milestone on the scoreboard would be 300 runs until, shortly before tea, Brownlie, on 99*, finally reached his own milestone, a boundary thick-edged off Kieran Noema-Barnett that flew just beyond the reach of the Stags' keeper.
They all count, and Brownlie had his 14th first-class century (fifth for ND) off 163 balls, in 252 mins, with 11 boundaries and three sixes in the mix. Moreover, at tea ND now held a 219-run lead with with eight wickets in hand, at 306 for two.
Brownlie would not add to his 104, however, bowled around his legs by Ajaz Patel first ball after tea for Patel's 200th in the Stags cap. By the end of the day, Patel would have chalked up 54 overs in the first innings, but he had three wickets to show for it, having picked up Tim Seifert as well, caught by Greg Hay after a positive 44.
Unfortunately for the flagging Stags, ND wasn't done making them fetch in the field. A pair of flowing Daryl Mitchell sixes off Patel put the ND 450 on the board with five wickets still intact, the 50-run stand with Mitchell Santner coming up off only 32 balls. He carried on to pelt 24 runs off the over.
Santner had meanwhile already galloped to his half century at run-a-ball pace. Next over, he was gone, caught off Blair Tickner.
After a long, hot afternoon, the third day came to a slightly merciful end for the fielding Stags a few balls later when bad sprinklers ended play with two overs remaining, ND 463 for six for a lead of 276 with four in hand.
The second morning began in cooler conditions, and with a dour first hour as Ben Smith and nightwatchman Ajaz Patel looked to fend off the relentless ND attack.
Patel would add a further 20 runs to his overnight 7* before playing on to James Baker, and ND chipped out a further three wickets before lunch. By then, however, the Stags had already edged past their first-innings total, and had already picked up a batting bonus point to go with the maximum set of four bowling points from the first innings.
Doug Bracewell joined Tom Bruce (above) just before the break and would see Bruce through to a half century in the middle session before Ish Sodhi broke through with his third wicket, at 239 for seven.
Bracewell got the Stags' second batting bonus point on the board, but departed at the end of the same Daryl Mitchell over, caught by Mitch Santner on 25. Seth Rance carried on the momentum, however, by getting off the mark with a six pelted back over Mitchell's head at the start of his following over.
ND kept attacking. Scott Kuggeleijn (above) soon ended the innings with a brace, Rance left unbeaten after his brazen 20 and the Stags' first-innings lead restricted to 87.
By tea, ND opening batsmen Daniel Flynn and Henry Cooper had negotiated their way to 41 without loss, knocking off almost half the lead on what was now another sweltering afternoon.
By stumps they were still going. Flynn (above) had picked his way to a patient half century, his 50 coming off 125 balls. He had made it a long afternoon for the Stags attack, particularly after he avoided french-cutting onto his stumps by millimetres.
Cooper had stuck with him to be unbeaten on 41*, the pair taking ND into the lead shortly before the bails were lifted and set to resume their 99-run stand on day three.
The final Plunket Shield round of 2018/19 began with the championship already having been decided and the Stags retaining the national title, but rivalries as strong as ever between these two strong neighbouring teams.
The Central Stags were returning for the first time to Seddon Park since their Burger King Super Smash title, but it was a sombre atmosphere as both teams donned black armbands and joined together in silence with officials and groundstaff to pay their respect to the victims of the tragic Christchurch terror attack two days previously.
On a humid, overcast, warm morning, Northern Districts captain Daniel Flynn elected to bat, but would become the first wicket at the end of the first over of the day and, with that LBW, provided Doug Bracewell with his 300th first-class wicket. It was the beginning of a tough two sessions for the hosts who found themselves bowled out before tea.
Bracewell had not always enjoyed the numbers in the wickets column to accompany his influence on the park with the ball over the summer, but was about to pick up three wickets in a session, sitting on a class 10-4-22-3 at lunch.
By then a brace to left-armer Ryan McCone (9-6-11-2) would have the hosts five down for just 74 runs, McCone having picked up the big wicket of Daryl Mitchell shortly before the break, caught by George Worker (below) for just one run. Mitchell's wicket always a treasured prize for opponents, it left Mitchell Santner to get underway in the middle session with Tim Seifert on 17*.
But by tea, ND was all out for 194. Seifert (below) had reached a half century, but at the end of the same Kieran Noema-Barnett over he was caught on 57.
Brett Hampton provided a late boost to the ND tally with his unbeaten 43* off 55 balls. Doug Bracewell finished with four for 46 after a peach of a delivery to bowl Ish Sodhi, before Blair Tickner replaced Bracewell and claimed the final wicket.
Coming off a five-wicket bag against the same team in Napier, McCone had meanwhile continued his productive late season showing and finished with 3-21 to overtake Seth Rance as the Stags' leading wicket-taker this summer.
By stumps Central was 107 for two in reply, George Worker (52, above) having reached a half century before the opening wicket fell: Mitchell Santner getting him caught behind down the leg side at 79 for one.
Central Stags captain Greg Hay was also lost, shortly before stumps, when he was trapped by Ish Sodhi (above) on 34. In the meantime he had surpassed a personal milestone with acknowledgement of his 5000th first-class run for the Central Stags flashing up on the scoreboard, a nice touch from ND.
Hay had reached 5000 first-class runs overall earlier this season, having also scored 98 career runs for New Zealand A. With their nightwatchman at the crease, the Stags will resume at 107 for two, trailing by just 87 on the first innings.
In his last eight innings, Central's first-time captain Hay had produced two centuries (226 in Alexandra and 158 in Napier, both against the Volts) and three half centuries. In the previous round, he had climbed to second spot in the overall national run aggregates for the first-class season, his 586 runs at 53.27 behind only Devon Conway’s 659 at 82.37 for the Firebirds.
Now he sat at 620 with one innings remaining potentially remaining in his season, while Conway's bats were put away in Wellington with the Firebirds-Canterbury match having been cancelled.