A new Wellington Firebirds sixth-wicket record was forged. MButcher/NZC

Battle of the Basin


Wellington Firebirds
v Central Stags at the Basin Reserve, 17-20 March 2018

Batting Bonus Points: Wellington Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved), Central Stags 4 (maximum achieved)
Bowling Bonus Points: Central Stags 2 (completed), Wellington Firebirds 3 (completed)

Result: Match drawn

Nineteen-year-old Felix Murray's composure on debut helped save a big match. MButcher/NZC

Total points this round: Wellington Firebirds 7, Central Stags 6

Video Scorecard


After four intense days of cricket, and the chance of an outright victory dangled before both captains' noses, the Battle of the Basin had lived up to its billing.

The clash between veterans Jeetan Patel and Jesse Ryder was one of may duels to relish. MButcher/NZC

The two dominant sides of the first-class summer, albeit with some fresh adjustments to their regular squads, had scrapped and fought, punched and counterpunched, attacked and fought back yet again, all over 12 coveted outright points that could have helped the Firebirds lock up the Shield, or pushed the Stags to almost equal top.

Instead, both teams will head into the final two rounds of the New Zealand season still with one eye on each other, circling each other still from afar.

The Stags will head to Napier hoping to overhaul the Firebirds, who can now control their own destiny. MButcher/NZC

The battle had gone the distance, ending after a session soaked in tension on the final evening, long after Victoria Tunnel had started to choke with rush hour traffic and the post-work foot commuters had begun ambling home through the ground or whizzing behind the sightscreens obliviously on their bikes.

The last session was nail-biting for both teams. MButcher/NZC

It had been yet another dramatic day, the Firebirds continuing to go hard at the Stags — you wouldn't expect less, but the results don't always come — with both bat and ball.

Devon Conway had been their hero of the morning session, after yesterday's horrific collapse. The composed keeper-batsman had soldiered on an unbeaten 82 by lunch, a pivotal knock that would eventually enable his captain to declare, after all.

Devon Conway walks off unbeaten on 103, his first Firebirds first-class ton. MButcher/NZC

The Wellington Firebirds had recovered remarkably to 234/8 at the break, leading by 341 overall, Alex Ridley (who had come in as a concussion substitute for Luke Woodcock) on 34* alongside Conway.

Alex Ridley became the second player in NZ history to enter as a consussion sub. MButcher/NZC

The flat deck continued to prove benign, Stags paceman Blair Tickner all but busting a gut in the hunt for his elusive maiden first-class five-wicket bag, and the likes of Adam Milne, Bevan Small and Willem Ludick likewise having to dig deep.

Adam Milne was made to work hard for his brace. MButcher/NZC

Tickner ironically has that rare jewel called a Twenty20 five-wicket-bag already in his career, yet at first-class level collects four-fas.

Blair Tickner claimed 4-75 off his 15 overs. MButcher/NZC

Even when he took his hat-trick against the Firebirds in Nelson earlier in the season, the bag remained elusive. Now the big man loped off to lunch on figures of 15-2-75-4, still hoping.

Ridley was now set as well, however, and after the break it was time for Conway to cash in, occasionally unleashing with class that indicated how and why he already had 13 first-class centuries to his name from his career in South Africa.

Devon Conway ensured the Firebirds regained control in the see-saw match. PHOTOSPORT

Only two wickets would fall, that of Newton, whose leg-stump was ripped out by Milne; and Iain McPeake who became Felix Murray's third and final wicket on debut (below).

Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell declared shortly after Conway reached his 14th first-class century, his first for the Wellington Firebirds (an unbeaten 103, off 178 balls with 11 fours), to go with 12 for Gauteng and one for KwaZulu-Natal for the now New Zealand-based player.

The sharp declaration at 264/8 set the Stags a challenge of 372 in 55 overs, on a sun-baked pitch that was now offering some up and down bounce.

The Firebirds' day quickly got even better post-declaration. MButcher/NZC
The Firebirds' opening attack made a brilliant start with Hamish Bennett and Ollie Newton each removing a batsman in their first over to knock the top off at 2/2, both openers trapped.

Ollie Newton complemented Bennett at the top. MButcher/NZC

In-form captain Will Young, who was to the crease fourth ball of the chase, and Jesse Ryder needed to steady the ship, now, before even thinking about going after the points.

Two wickets in the opening over put the Stags skipper in the hot seat. MButcher/NZC

But it would be a disastrous session for the Stags as their score quickly became 20 for five, losing the big wickets of Young, Tom Bruce and Dane Cleaver.

The Firebirds rejoice as Bennett removes Dane Cleaver without score. MButcher/NZC

Hamish Bennett was superb and aggressive as he motored to 3-14 off his nine overs, including the key wicket of Young whom he deceived and had caught behind. He had earlier claimed the opener Brad Schmulian for no score and Dane Cleaver would also fall before him without score.

Jesse Ryder's experience helped settle down a rocky innings, but there was more turbulence in store. MButcher/NZC

Ryder remained at tea, grafting to his unbeaten 28 alongside the debutant Ludick on 13 who, on his 21st birthday, had just punched a four to push the now-defensive Stags past 50.

The hard deck was now a little up and down, adding to the intrigue to the final day. MButcher/NZC

Resuming the last session of the match at 51 for five, surely Ryder's fate now would determined who claimed the final session and with it, the game.

Iain McPeake made two key breakthroughs in Ryder and Milne. MButcher/NZC

When Ryder was caught with 22 overs left to play after 131 minutes at the crease, heads with green caps drooped.

Big Iain McPeake had finally got him to chase one down the leg side, only to gift an edge behind. By now the last genuine batsman had departed, and Adam Milne, like Ludick before him, played watchfully for almost an hour, chewing up time the goal.

Ollie Newton (above) had earlier claimed Ludick caught behind as his second wicket after having made one of the early breakthroughs, the young man feathering a bottom edge.

Willie Ludick made a solid all-round debut, under fire. MButcher/NZC

Now Milne's long day ended with a straightforward catch offered on four, leaving the Stags 85 for eight as the small figure of 19-year-old Felix Murray shuffled out to the crease with more than an hour left to play in the long shadows of the Basin.

Bevan Small batted for one and half hours to hold the tail together. MButcher/NZC

However, a dogged ninth-wicket partnership between bowling allrounder Small and the spinner debutant would ensure that no further wicket would fall, the diminutive Murray up on his toes ball after ball to the pacemen, then blanking out the nine men gathered round the bat as the Firebirds desperately sought to expose Tickner to their attack as the overs dried up.

A classic defensive field greets Murray. MButcher/NZC

The young Murray had been elevated above Tickner after his first innings efforts and his concentration was rewarded with two unbeaten knocks of 12 and 27 on debut, bit it was time that mattered. He held on for 46 minutes, denying the Firebirds the final two wickets they had needed in order to go clear on the points table.

Dem feels when you save the match on your first-class debut. MButcher/NZC

The Battle of the Basin had ended in a draw, and the smattering of spectators who had stayed to the last ball filed out the gates agreeing it had been a heck of a last session, and match, to behold.



Ollie Newton and Devon Conway head in at stumps after a fiery and costly last session. PHOTOSPORT

A dramatic final session on day three saw the Wellington Firebirds effectively sacrifice their hard-won first innings advantage, a shock second-innings collapse from the championship leaders hauling the Central Stags right back into contention in the crunch clash.

On a deck that had been a featherbed since the first afternoon, pacemen Adam Milne and Blair Tickner kept the heat on, unafraid to use the short ball as the Firebirds lost six wickets, in addition to opener Luke Woodcock who had retired hurt in just the fifth over after he was struck on the badge of the helmet trying to pull against Adam Milne at 10/0.

On his 36th birthday, Woodcock left the field feeling dazed, Milne having shown immediate concern for the veteran batsman. He recovered well during the afternoon.

Milne soon had his first wicket, bouncing out first drop Stephen Murdoch in the ninth over as the ducking first drop was caught off his helmet, before debutant Willie Ludick, the young genuine allrounder on debut, trapped Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell with just his third delivery.

The expression says it all for Michael Bracewell. MButcher/NZC

In between, Firebirds opener Michael Papps had been looking in a dangerous mood, racing to a run-a-ball 48 as he swung hard across the line — and punched Tickner for six, twice.

The last time the two teams had met in the first-class arena, in Nelson before Christmas, Tickner had taken a first-class hat-trick. Everyone at the ground held their breath as the big pace bowler promptly put himself in line for a second hat-trick of the summer, against the very same side.

He started with Papps, bowling him with a beautifully angled nut before Fraser Colson — who already has two first-class pairs —made a spectacularly ill-fated leave and lost his middle stump.

Hero of the first innings Macolm Nofal was good enough to deny Tickner a second hat-trick, but when he bottom-edged him on six - the catch snaffled by stand-in wicketkeeper Ben Smith after Dane Cleaver had left the field with a back twinge, Tickner's celebratory leap was the highest of the lot.

Devon Conway remains unbeaten after a gritty 24. MButcher/NZC

He had taken himself from figures of 0-31 to 3-36 in his spell, and wasn't done yet. With Jeetan Patel not renowned for his batting, and the Firebirds effectively six down with an overall lead of just 196, the Stags sniffed a major opportunity as the pressure went on the hosts to settle it down quickly before stumps.

Patel's dismissal put Tickner in line for a five-for tomorrow. MButcher/NZC

Before long Tickner's heavy ball had Patel caught, the wicket maiden taking him to 4-38 in his first eight overs, bowling one more in the spell to finish with 4-44 off nine.

Adam Milne enjoyed his afternoon's work. MButcher/NZC

Milne meanwhile had come back into the attack and tormented Ollie Newton with a series of snorters, Newton surviving a less than enjoyable 40 minutes before stumps to ensure that he and Devon Conway (24*) can start again in the morning, the scoreboard parked at 118 for six overnight, a 225-run lead.

Ollie Newton dodges a snorter from Milne. MButcher/NZC

Already, the Firebirds' satisfaction at having taken a 107-run first innings advantage after eventually dismissing the Stags for 423 was somewhat dimmed.

Veteran spinner Jeetan Patel had claimed a five-wicket bag for the second time in as many matches - his 38th, but the close of the innings had some after a useful last-wicket stand of 37 from the final pair of Tickner and debutant Felix Murray (below), who was left unbeaten on 27.

Earlier, wicketkeeper-batsman Dane Cleaver marked his return to the batting crease (after having been injured in the Ford Trophy Grand Final several weeks earlier) with an innings of 72 in a 71-run stand with Ludick for the sixth wicket as the green-tinged Basin Reserve deck continued to prove benign in the fine conditions.

Former South Africa Under-19 rep Ludick (above) batted for an hour and a half in his first knock, hitting elegant sixes off Iain McPeake and Jeetan Patel for good measure.

Earlier in the morning, Will Young and Tom Bruce had extended their overnight stand for the fourth wicket to 110 runs before Patel broke through, Young left furious with himself after offering a chance behind on 75.

Bruce carried on to a patient 89 before he was trapped by Ollie Newton to have the Stags 292 for five.

However, as the partnerships kept coming, the Firebirds were unable to deny their rival a full set of batting bonuses, while pocketing three of the available four bowling bonsues, at a stage of the competition where every point counts.

The first-innings lead to the Firebirds, albeit far slimmer than they had hoped for, was a birthday present for both Woodcock and fellow birthday lad Colson. However, neither would enjoy the sudden turn events in the last two hours of a day on which the championship may yet turn.


Malcolm Nofal celebrates his 150 on debut. PHOTOSPORT
The Wellington Firebirds' monumental fightback from 99/5 ended at 530 after Central Stags spinner Brad Schmulian claimed the final wicket as his maiden in first-class cricket — Hamish Bennett his victim, caught and bowled.
It brought to three the number of Stags bowlers to claim maiden wickets in the match, alongside Willem Ludick and Felix Murray. Earlier, Ludick had put himself in contention for a five-wicket bag on debut when he finally dismissed Malcolm Nofal.
Nofal meanwhile had a record-breaking 179 — the highest score by any Wellington Firebirds debutant, breaking a mark that had stood in the recordbooks since 1896/87, set by Arnold Williams, who had hit 163 at first drop at Christchurch's Lancaster Park.
Ludick's fellow young Stags debutant Felix Murray also picked up his first two wickets at this level, claiming Jeetan Patel and Iain McPeake.
However, the Firebirds' late order had looked comfortable on a deck that had flattened out since yesterday morning, McPeake and Ollie Newton piling on a quick 63-run stand for the ninth wicket, Newton slamming his way to a career best unbeaten 43.

Ollie Newton blasted an unbeaten 43 off 24 balls, his career best. PHOTOSPORT

Stags openers Ben Smith and Brad Schmulian safely navigated the three overs before the lunch break before Smith became the first to fall after the break, given out to a half-hearted appeal from Hamish Bennett to a ball that had looked a good leave.

Schmulian joined him back in the sheds to have the Stags 33 for two, but Jesse Ryder and Will Young steadied the shop with a 96-run stand for the third wicket.

Ryder looked at ease in familiar conditions but was lucky to survive on 33 against Bennett, however on 69 there was no such vagaries when he was caught behind off a fired-up Jeetan Patel.

Patel had been relentlessly challenging the batsmen, but captain Will Young and Tom Bruce would ensure there was no further trouble for the visitors before stumps, both heading into day three with unbeaten half centuries, 226 for three overnight on a flat deck and trailing by 304 on the first innings at stumps.


A remarkable sixth-wicket fightback saw a new first-class partnership record inked into the recordbooks for Plunket Shield leaders the Wellington Firebirds at a wind-chilled Basin Reserve.

Opener Luke Woodcock and Firebirds debutant Malcolm Nofal put on 247 in 72.5 overs for the sixth wicket - ensuring their side recovered from 99 for five to 346 for six when the stand was finally broken by a Stags debutant. It was an early portent of a see-saw of a match for both teams as the two dominant sides of the summer locked horns.

Nofal, who had a career best of 82 from his 11 first-class appearances for Gauteng in South Africa, reached his maiden century from 136 balls (6x4, 3x6) in his first first-class appearance for the capital side and, by stumps, was unbeaten on 136.

Woodcock meanwhile had already reached his 11th first-class century, all of them having been scored for the Firebirds, before sticking around to see Nofal reach his own milestone later in the last session.

Malcolm Nofal reaches his maiden first-class century. MButcher/NZC

Woodcock batted for more than six and a half hours before his dismissal on 147 ended the new Wellington Firebirds sixth-wicket record partnership (previous record: 226 set by Evan Gray and Ross Ormiston, also against the Central Stags at the Basin Reserve, in January 1982).

Number eleven for Luke Woodcock. PHOTOSPORT

Woodcock, who is already the most-capped player in the Wellington Firebirds' first-class history, and currently in his 134th appearance for the team, now holds a stake in no fewer than three Wellington Firebirds partnership records — for the first, sixth and ninth wickets, the first two records having been posted this season and his ninth-wicket stand (also set against the Central Stags at the Basin Reserve) posted with Ili Tugaga in December 2009, when Woodcock was batting at five. The Wellington Firebirds' first-class records date back to the first match at the Basin in November 1873!

Woodcock, who had earlier taken a painful blow on the forearm from Milne that required treatment, was eventually dismissed by former South Africa ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup representative Willem Ludick, who was one of two players — along with double New Zealand ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup spinner Felix Murray — to make their first-class debut in this match for the Central Stags, who had lost a clutch of their regular performers to NZXI selections.

Adam Milne led the Stags' rearranged attack. PHOTOSPORT

Earlier, BLACKCAPS pace bowler Adam Milne had had the Firebirds 4/2, putting himself on a hat-trick first over after the first three deliveries of the morning. Milne had won his battle with Michael Papps and then claimed a scoreless Stephen Murdoch, while 20-year-old Ludick ended his first day of first-class cricket with an impressive 3-68.

The Firebirds will resume on day two at 365 for six after having been sent in on a green-tinged deck that was rapidly flattening out.

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