Auckland Aces v Central Stags at Eden Park Outer Oval 9-12 March 2018
- First innings batting bonus points: Central Stags 4 (maximum achieved), Auckland Aces 1 (completed)
- First innings bowling bonus points: Auckland Aces 1 (completed), Central Stags 4 (maximum achieved)
RESULT: MATCH DRAWN; Central Stags gained the Plunket Shield lead before the Wellington Firebirds reclaimed it the following day after closing out a nailbiter in Dunedin
With ex-cyclone Hola drawing closer and closer to Auckland, the Central Stags got to work quickly when the forecast rain stayed away long enough to get a start on time on the last morning at Eden Park.
The Aces, meanwhile, were back on battle stations, having resumed at a perilous 152 for five following on, and still a long way from saving the match.
Ajaz Patel (above) had three wickets to his name in the second innings already, to go with a five-for from the first, and had his eyes on a third 10-wicket match haul in his career. It would not take him long to achieve it.
Patel started by stopping Ben Horne on three, the keeper-batsman squirting a catch to George Worker in the slips.
Doug Bracewell then chimed in, getting one through the key man of Glenn Phillips (above) a couple of overs later to expose the tail. Patel struck again in the next over as English Aces pro Stuart Meaker believed in the leave, only to lose his castle.
Patel's first 10-wicket match haul had been at this same ground two seasons earlier, followed by his career-best 11-for at Hagley Oval last season.
The Aces were now 175 for eight with Matt McEwan and Ben Lister defensive at the crease. However, the clouds above were swirling thick and grey and, a few overs later, light but steady rain set in and the teams retired for an early lunch at 181 for eight — just after the new ball had been taken.
The drizzle continued throughout the day, the match finally called a draw shortly after 5pm.
The Stags will head off to a key, top-of-the-table showdown at the Basin Reserve against the Firebirds on Saturday with maximum bonus points from the encounter, but two wickets left standing between them and what would have been a useful, full 20-pointer against a team they had dominated from start to finish — before the weather won out.
Patel could take personal solace in his third five-wicket bag in consecutive innings, pushing him to the top of the season wickets tally — having already finished as the Plunket Shield's top wicket-taker for the past two seasons.
His second-innings five-fa was the Mumbai-born, Auckland-based Stag's 14th bag of his domestic first-class career, all achieved for the Central Stags.
Patel's previous 10-wicket match hauls were a career-best 11-265 against the Auckland Aces two seasons ago (also at Eden Park Outer Oval) and against Canterbury at Hagley Oval last summer. He now has 35 wickets from seven matches this season at an average of 22.85.
As the sun continued to shine, the Auckland Aces were forced to follow on at Eden Park Outer Oval after a second consecutive five-wicket bag for off-spinner Ajaz Patel (5-42, below) wrapped up the hosts' first innings before lunch.
The final Aces pairing of Jamie Brown and Ben Lister managed to scrape past the 200-mark to snare the Aces a bonus point, but there was little else for the third-placed side to savour as they headed back out after lunch looking for 320 to avoid an innings defeat against a side with their tails up.
By then, the Aces had already lost a big second innings wicket in Jeet Raval, caught behind third ball of the innings after a flying catch by stand-in wicketkeeper Ben Smith gave Ben Wheeler the early wicket.
By stumps, the Aces were five down with a day still to play — but with ex-cyclone Hola forecast to wash over Auckland tomorrow, the likelihood is that weather will be their saving grace.
Earlier, the Aces last realistic hopes had dissipated in the morning session as Patel broke the fledgling overnight stand between Glenn Phillips and Ben Horne with Horne's wicket, two more quick wickets falling before the dangerous Phillips sacrificed himself on the Aces' top score of 63, lobbing a simple catch to Patel off Bevan Small (2-52) after rapidly running out of support.
With his deceptive variations Patel, the competition's leading wicket-taker for the past two seasons running, then zeroed in on tailender Brown to finished with 5-42 and his 13th first-class career five-for, and fourth bag this season.
The Aces went to lunch at 12 for one after following on, and captain Michael Guptill-Bunce and Sean Solia (above) put in some solid work after the break to push the score along to 72/2. Solia looked good and had reached 36 by the time Patel got himself back in the wickets column, Guptill-Bunce removed on 33.
That pitted Patel against Robbie O'Donnell who backed himself to advance to the spinner. He lasted nearly an hour before Patel claimed him after tea, stumped by Ben Smith at 107 for three.
The wickets weren't coming quickly enough for the Stags' liking, given the cyclone due to hit overnight; and the afternoon took on the atmosphere and feel of a final afternoon.
Solia reached his half century before being caught off Wheeler on 59, reuniting Glenn Phillips and debutant Finn Allen at the crease.
The young pair exercised due caution for the best part of an hour, the Stags running out of overs to make the necessary breakthroughs. Allen would give Patel his eighth wicket of the match, and even Jesse Ryder had a trundle for an over before stumps, but no further Aces wickets would fall as the skies began to thicken with deep grey cloud.
The Central Stags batsmen continued to dominate in fine conditions, captain Will Young advancing from his overnight 141 to his first first-class 150 and, ultimately, 162 off 196 balls (24 fours, one six).
Young and Tom Bruce, who had meanwhile pelted his way to a half century in a return to form, had secured maximum batting bonus points for the side and were on the doorstep of a 150-run partnership for the fifth wicket when Young finally gave way, trapped by Jamie Brown.
Doug Bracewell joined Bruce on 75*, but just when it looked like the Stags might be celebrating three centuries in one innings, golden arm spinner Glenn Phillips — who had suffered against Young and co — took Bruce out on 84.
By now, the Stags had reached 458 for six and, with Doug Bracewell at the crease, there was still plenty of potential for some more damage to the home scoreboard. Bracewell helped himself to a boundary and then six off consecutive deliveries to ease the Stags past the 500 mark.
Wickets had finally begun to fall more regularly for the Aces, however, and the Stags tail lashed out to get the visitors up to 524 before Matt McEwan claimed the final wicket. McEwan finished with 3-92, the rest of the wickets shared around the attack.
After a tough four sessions, the Aces got off to a shaky start with the bat themselves — almost immediately losing captain Michael Guptill-Bunce, trapped for a duck by Ben Wheeler second ball of the reply.
Bevan Small then made it two in the session with some help in the deep from Doug Bracewell as the Stags picked up the useful wicket of Sean Solia, the Aces heading into tea at 50/2.
By stumps, the Aces found themselves five down and still a long way behind — to the tune of 380 runs.
Debutant Finn Allen had batted one minute shy of an hour in his first first-class knock, looking promising alongside his former NZU19 teammate Glenn Phillips.
He reached 20 before spinner Ajaz Patel claimed him, bowled, to net the Stags a second bowling bonus point.
The wickets had been shared around all five of the Stags attack, which was missing seamers Blair Tickner (injured) and Seth Rance (unavailable due to the forthcoming NZ XI game vs England).
Earlier, opener Jeet Raval had come off second best against Adam Milne, Robbie O’Donnell carrying on into the 40s before he was given leg before to Doug Bracewell.
Phillips will head into day three unbeaten on 40 with new partner Ben Horne (2*), the hosts 144 for five and hometown hope weighing on their shoulders.
The Plunket Shield's new top run-maker made it back-to-back centuries as Greg Hay produced his third first-class hundred of the season, adding a ton in Auckland to his Nelson and Napier efforts. The 11th century of his overall career, the innings also continued Hay’s feat of a half century or better in every Plunket Shield match so far this season.
The seasoned opener’s innings had got going with support from George Worker, Hay leading the strike rate for once as a patient Worker returned from his ankle injury. After their captain had won the toss and batted, the pair ensured there would be no loss before lunch, with 112 on the board.
After two and a half hours at the crease, Worker was just three runs from a half century when he departed soon after the break and, when Jamie Brown quickly removed Ben Smith, the Aces finally had some traction for their toil on a warm morning.
However, Hay and captain Will Young had other ideas and set about reprising their classy stand from their previous innings in Napier.
Both would reach centuries, Hay batting into the third session for his 101 before being bounced out soon afterward by Sean Solia to end a 123-run stand, while Young was unbeaten at stumps on a career-best 141, having brought up his hundred with a booming cover drive.
With him was Taranaki teammate Tom Bruce as the Stags put down their bats for the day at 379 for four, Young’s century having come up in quick time off 106 balls (16 x 4, 1 x 6).
Bruce was unbeaten on 41 as 18-year-old Finn Allen made his first-class debut for the Aces chasing leather against the same side against which he had also made his Burger King Super Smash debut (at this same ground last season) and his Ford Trophy debut (at Pukekura Park this summer); having yet to play against any other side on the domestic circuit.
Aces captain Michael Guptill-Bunce could at least take solace from a stunner of a catch that had kept Jesse Ryder in check, a number of his side recovering from a flu virus and likely feeling a long day in the field.