Auckland Aces lost to Wellington Firebirds by an innings and seven runs
Colin Maiden Park, Auckland
10-13 March 2020
Bonus Points: Auckland Aces 2, Wellington Firebirds 6
Total points this round: Auckland Aces 2, Wellington Firebirds 18
This season's introduction of a new style of Kookaburra, with an extra layer of lacquer and cross-stitching, will be trialled for rounds five and six only, with the final two rounds to be played with the usual ball.
Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell added to his career-best figures with the ninth Aces wicket shortly after play resumed on the final morning at Colin Maiden Park.
Bracewell took himself to 4-39 when Ben Lister popped up a dolly to Devon Conway, bringing last man Jamie Brown to the middle to join Louis Delport, still needing 22 runs to make the Firebirds bat again.
However, Bracewell was having none of that - claiming a caught and bowled to seal his maiden five-wicket-bag in first-class cricket with figures of 5-43 off 29.4 overs.
Number nine Delport was left with a maiden first-class half century for bittersweet consolation, unbeaten on 53* after having batted for more than two hours.
The victory swept the Firebirds to 83 points on the table, strengthening their lead in a competition they haven't won since 2003/04. They now head to Napier's McLean Park for a second big showdown with defending champions the Central Stags, whom they beat by nine wickets a week ago at the Basin.
Career-best bowling figures for captain and supposedly part-time spinner Michael Bracewell (below) put the black and yellow icing on the cake as the Firebirds manouevred themselves into a winning position at Colin Maiden Park.
The Firebirds stand to take themselves to 83 points at the head of the table after the Aces ended the penultimate day’s play at 151 for eight in their second dig, still trailing overall by 30 runs.
Very little has gone to plan for the hosts since they won the toss on day one.
After having dismissed the Firebirds for 360 just in time for lunch on day three, they were left with a still hefty first-innings deficit of 181 — a chasm made harder to leap when they promptly found themselves two down inside the first three overs of their second turn at bat, Jeet Raval and Glenn Phillips both early victims of a rampant Logan van Beek (3-14 off 12; below).
It was the beginning of a long afternoon battling for survival as the run rate slowed to a dribble. The Aces were fighting to hold the Firebirds’ points table lead to a minimum — for their own chances’ sake, having gone into the round just 13 points behind in second, and now slipping to interim third after picking up just two bonus points.
Will O’Donnell batted for almost two hours for his 17 before Bracewell (3-39) claimed him as the first of his three victims; Finn Allen carrying on with the elder O’Donnell to reach 66 in 146 minutes.
Allen’s was the only substantial score of the innings, brought to an end when he edged Ben Sears (2-22) down leg to the keeper.
Bracewell then snared both Robbie O’Donnell and Ben Horne in his spree before Danru Ferns also followed in swift succession, while Sean Solia — occupying the crease for more than an hour and a half for just 12 runs, desperately tried to save his side from defeat.
It was a heavy burden for Solia (above) who knew his side had precious little batting to come: the Firebirds were closing in on a significant victory, the Aces trying to stave off an innings defeat. With eight overs left in the day, Solia became Sears’ second wicket, bringing Ben Lister together with Louis Delport (below) and Jamie Brown the last man padded up.
Young Firebird Rachin Ravindra’s maiden first-class century was the special highlight of the second day — but the Firebirds settled for just two of the four batting bonus points on offer after digging in through another stop-start afternoon of showery weather.
The 20-year-old’s previous first-class best was 96 for the Firebirds last season, however, there wasn’t much time for nineties nervousness against the Auckland spinners.
Ravindra raced through to 98 before he tapped a three off Glenn Phillips to bring up three figures for the first time in his Plunket Shield career.
Next over, Ravindra would be out off the next ball he faced.
Earlier he'd poured on a 175-run partnership with Devon Conway for the second wicket that had the Firebirds in a good place.
Conway (above) had already departed some 20 overs earlier, having just missed out on a ton of his own — caught behind off spinner Louis Delport, after a solid 94.
Delport (below) would also end Ravindra’s stay at 224 for three as he continued to make himself look right at home in the Aces’ attack.
After having spent a long time hunting for just one breakthrough, the hosts got back in the swing of things with the quick dismissal of Bracewell next over, as well as picking up Troy Johnson before stumps.
Having been 177/1, the Firebirds overnighted at 287 for five — an interim first innings lead of 108, both sides picking up two bonuses from the innings. Not quite as comfortable a position as had been looking likely for the visitors before the Aces' late fightback, but they'd take it.
Bonus points (completed): Wellington Firebirds 6, Auckland Aces 2
Just a couple of weeks ago, Auckland’s Colin Maiden Park, which has limited irrigation, was looking more like a slab of the Sahara than a typically pleasant Kiwi cricket ground, but a sprinkling of precipitation had freshened up the turf - and now the match was already well on track for a result.
Winning the toss, the hosts batted, but were all out for just 179 after the first two sessions in a disastrous start to the match.
Missing a handful of their powerhouse BLACKCAPS (now in Australia) and the injured Mark Chapman, star of their previous win, the Aces will have been disappointed with that — Solia’s 69 at six sparing some blushes in one of only two 50-partnerships in the innings.
The other was from opener Raval and first drop Phillips (31) who batted around a brief early shower interruption before another drift of rain saw an early lunch taken at 64 for three.
Michael Snedden had claimed Raval, and he came back for two tailenders to pick up 3-42 against his old side, but everyone was in the wickets as the Firebirds — leading the Shield — sniffed a chance to rattle through and set themselves up early.
After a gallant last-wicket stand with Jamie Brown, Solia was the last man to go when he was trapped by Bracewell who is increasingly trotting out his off-spinners and on this occasion struck the fatal blow with just his third delivery.
By stumps, the Firebirds were humming along in reply, despite having lost young opener Jakob Bhula for no score early doors.
Top Plunket run-scorer Conway had added to his big pile of runs for the season with an unbeaten 64* in just under three hours.
Even golden arm Phillips couldn’t dislodge him as he set about an unbroken century stand with Ravindra for the second wicket, the latter poised on 49 not out for the start of day two, at 125 for one — the Firebirds trailing by just 54.
Progress Bonus Points for day one: Auckland Aces 0, Wellington Firebirds 4