Northern Districts v Wellington Firebirds at Seddon Park, Hamilton, 7-10 November 2017
Points from this round: Wellington Firebirds 20, Northern Districts 5
The Firebirds held on to the top rung of the Plunket Shield ladder after completing a closely fought win in Hamilton: their first away victory of the season, and the unbeaten Wellingtonians' third outright on the bounce.
On a final morning that could have gone either way, Cantabrian-turned-Firebirds allrounder Logan van Beek tipped the balance towards the visiting side as he snared his career-best match haul, 10-117, and first five-for in Wellington colours.
It had been no easy job for ND's batsmen on a two-paced deck with variable bounce, and van Beek exploited it to the hilt.
Getting home by just 82 runs, with two sessions to spare, the front-running Firebirds now head back home to the Basin to take on a struggling Canterbury side, while ND — now dwelling in the points cellar — will remain at Seddon Park looking for a better result against neighbours the Auckland Aces from Wednesday next week.
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A wicket on the cusp of lunch had the Firebirds 71 for four in their second innings, with an in-between lead of 202 after having rolled ND just one run short of obtaining a second bonus point.
Young Zak Gibson had been the man to strike, a peach of a ball bowling opener Luke Woodcock on 30.
It was an important blow, for the tall, lively Gibson had already claimed skipper Michael Bracewell for single figures, while Brent Arnel had been awarded an lbw when the prodigious Michael Papps was on a mere three.
There was no room for doubt when Arnel then got a slashing first drop Stephen Murdoch caught in the slips, and all of a sudden the Firebirds were in a distinct spot of bother.
It was moving day, and ND were making all the headway. The Firebirds would crumble to be all out in 46 overs, Jimmy Baker (4-34) gifted a quick four-for by the tail and throwing in a run out of Jeetan Patel to boot. Fraser Colson had been the best of the Birds with just 40, before he had become Baker's first victim.
The teams headed in for tea with ND the ones with a bounce in their step, their batsmen set to look for just 290 for an outright with four sessions remaining.
Logan van Beek made a big double breakthrough in the 12th over to dampen that bounce somewhat at 46 for two, then Michael Papps held onto a difficult grab at slip off Jeetan Patel to remove opener Daniel Flynn on 36.
Dean Brownlie and Tim Seifert now had the task of getting ND safely through to stumps on a warm Waikato afternoon, with plenty of time left to pick off the 178 runs required to win tomorrow.
After a weather-delayed start, Fraser Colson reached his fourth first-class half century after he and Ollie Newton had looked to continue their eighth wicket revival.
On 29 Newton would be caught in the slips off Brent Arnel, but Colson stormed ahead to his fifty and posted it in style, slashing Jimmy Baker to the boundary.... after also having thumped a frustrated Baker's previous two balls for a six and four.
Baker would have the last laugh, quickly taking out Colson's new partner Iain McPeake with the last ball of the costly over, and that wicket precipitated the end of the Firebirds innings as a larroping Colson himself fell to Arnel just two balls later.
Arnel collected his 15th first-class five-wicket bag (5-73) for his troubles as Northern Districts began their turn at bat before lunch, the Firebirds having fought well as a collective for 380 in their first dig.
By tea, ND had chiselled the Firebirds' lead down to 241, but at the cost of four wickets.
Dean Brownlie was still there on 62, but captain Daniel Flynn had been an early loss; Bharat Popli had been prevented from getting going by Hamish Bennett and then opener Henry Cooper had been caught just two shy of his fifty.
The last thing ND needed was another wicket before the break, but that's exactly what happened as Bennett scattered Tim Seifert's bails, Anton Devcich yet to get off the mark as he and Brownlie (62*) headed in at the interval.
Brownlie pressed on and looked to be the decisive factor in the innings until, on 81, he played on, Ollie Newton snaring a second big wicket after having earlier accounted for Flynn. Brownlie had already shared a rollicking 64-run stand with Anton Devcich, whose 43 flew off just 51 balls, and was just getting started for the sixth wicket with the useful Scott Kuggeleijn.
When Jeetan Patel befuddled fellow spinner Joe Walker, ND was 228 for seven and now just looking to see out the remainder of the day without further disruption to their plans, still trailing by 152 on the first innings. Kuggeleijn (23* overnight) and Zak Gibson cut that deficit to 143 for no further loss.
There could have been few surprises when Northern Districts captain Daniel Flynn chose to bowl on a deck so well grassed that it was hard to see where it started and finished; but the red hot Wellington Firebirds' batting line-up settled in regardless.
It didn't all go the Firebirds' way, with Michael Papps edging to the slips on just 24, a first strike for Jimmy Baker in his 50th first-class match.
Opening partner Luke Woodcock moved the score through to the renowned 111 before he became the first of Brent Arnel's three wickets for the day (3-61), and by lunch Stephen Murdoch was busy rebuilding with captain Michael Bracewell.
50 for Stephen Murdoch. Looks like the opposition's best option to get him out this season is to leave him in the hutch for 7 hours. pic.twitter.com/Hzzq710uBm— Wellington Firebirds (@wgtnfirebirds) November 7, 2017
The duo would share a key 112-run partnership for the third wicket before Bracewell edged Kuggeleijn (below) behind just two runs shy of a half century.
That left the doughty Murdoch (78* at tea) to carry on with Tom Blundell (33) and then Fraser Colson before the first drop, on 97, waved at Arnel only to catch a bottom edge and miss out on what would have been a 13th first-class century.
Two late wickets gave the ND attack some more cheer and by stumps the visitors had clambered to 322 for seven, Colson remaining unbeaten overnight on 20.
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