Stags complete easy win over Firebirds

The Central Stags took just 185 balls and little more than the first session today to skittle the Wellington Firebirds and complete a convincing 243-run win in their opening round Plunket Shield cricket match at Napier.

What shaped as a potentially exciting run chase -- the Firebirds began the fourth and final day at 61 for one requiring another 344 runs to win -- soon fizzled out into a one-horse race as the visitors could only add another 100 runs for the loss of their last nine wickets at Nelson Park.

The Stags completed the rout in the second over after lunch when left-arm quick Mitchell McClenaghan took his third wicket, claiming the scalp of No 11 Tipene Friday for 18.

Friday was one of 10 Firebirds players who did not reach 20 as opening batsman Josh Brodie top-scored with 33, 32 of which were scored yesterday.

The seamers again did the damage for the home team, with Michael Mason taking three for 23 from 16 typically accurate overs, Ben Wheeler three for 42 and McClenaghan three for 49 as the Stags claimed the maximum eight points from the match.

Emerging talent Wheeler completed a match haul of nine for 102 as the batting woes the Firebirds were plagued with last season again surfaced.

Day 3: Stags set up big chase for Firebirds

The Central Stags teased the Wellington Firebirds before Kruger van Dyk and Doug Bracewell got serious and steered the home team into a strong position heading into the fourth and final day of their Plunket Shield cricket match at Napier.

Resuming today at 35 for three, the Stags slumped to 66 for six -- an overall lead of just 153 -- as Firebirds pace bowler Andrew Lamb continued the onslaught he and Lee Edwards started late yesterday at Nelson Park.

But a record seventh-wicket partnership of 187 between wicketkeeper van Dyk (95) and allrounder Bracewell (97) reinstated the Stags' position of superiority.

The home team were eventually dismissed for 317, setting the Firebirds a challenging target of 405 to win.

Stags opening bowler Ben Wheeler struck a blow before stumps, having former New Zealand test opener Matthew Bell caught behind by van Wyk for nine as the Firebirds ended the day at 61 for one.

Both van Wyk and Bracewell fell short of deserved hundreds -- in Bracewell's case it would have been his first -- but their job had been completed, and Bracewell was able to reflect on his best score at first-class level, bettering an unbeaten 60 against the Northern Knights last season.

Their partnership was also a Stags record for the seventh wicket against Wellington, eclipsing the 134 put together by Mark Douglas and Stu Duff across the road at McLean Park in the 1991/92 season.

Lamb was tireless for the Firebirds and finished with six for 70 from 26 overs, while Edwards took two for 94 from 27 overs as the two opening bowlers shouldered the bulk of the workload.

Day 2: Wheeler shines as wickets tumble in Napier

Rising pace bowler Ben Wheeler's reputation blossomed further but Nelson Park's status as a batting paradise was in ruins at the halfway point of the Plunket Shield cricket match between the Central Stags and the Wellington Firebirds today.

The Napier venue witnessed 13 wickets fall for just 206 runs today as the Stags gained an edge in a match that seems destined for an outright result.

For that they can thank the efforts of Blenheim strike bowler Wheeler, who celebrated his 19th birthday by taking six for 60 off 23 overs in just his third first-class match.

The left-armer, who stood out for the New Zealand under-19 side last summer, bowled with sharp pace as he ripped the top off the Firebirds order. The visitors' innings ended at 206 for nine, with wicketkeeper Joe Austin-Smellie having retired hurt for six after taking a blow to the helmet, resulting in a trip to the hospital for precautionary x-rays.

As was often the case last season, Luke Woodcock was the only bright light with the bat for the Firebirds, compiling an unbeaten 47. Opener Josh Brodie reached 43 but the team return was a major disappointment after resuming at 35 without loss.

Leading by 87 runs on the first innings, the Stags hardly rammed their advantage home at the top of their second innings, limping to 35 for three, with Peter Ingram, Jamie How and Brad Patton all removed cheaply.

Impressive new ball exponent Andrew Lamb claimed two cheap scalps but more of the same will be needed tomorrow as his team trail by 122 runs.

Day 1: New-look Firebirds edge Stags on opening day

The Wellington Firebirds' raw seam attack and gloveman Joe Austin-Smellie led a post-lunch rearguard against the Central Stags to snatch the advantage on the first day of their Plunket Shield cricket match at Napier today.

At a Nelson Park venue best known for its generosity to batsmen, the visitors will be well pleased to have dismissed the Stags for 293 before responding with an unblemished 35.

Firebirds skipper Grant Elliott may have regretted his decision to field first as the hosts rolled to 126 for one at lunch. But momentum swung his team for the remainder of a day in which their unheralded pacemen were rewarded for persistence.

If allrounder Elliott isn't counted, then Andrew Lamb, Lee Edwards, Stewart Rhodes and newcomer Tipene Friday boast just 16 first class matches between them. They were united for this match courtesy of injuries to contracted bowlers Mark Gillespie, Dewayne Bowden, Leighton Burtt and Ili Tugaga, along with the international callup of James Franklin.

Friday led the second-session comeback, claiming three for 39 off 13 overs on debut, including the key scalp of Mathew Sinclair for six.

Sinclair was one of six batsmen caught by wicketkeeper Austin-Smellie -- including all of the top five batsmen -- the youngster having officially inherited the gloves this season from veteran Chris Nevin.

Edwards and Elliott claimed two scalps each as the Stags lost their last nine wickets for 150 runs.

Only Brad Patton's 80 and opener Peter Ingram's 55 were innings of real substance, while veteran Canterbury Wizards wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk contributed 39 for his new team.

Matthew Bell was unbeaten on 22 for the Firebirds, with opening partner Josh Brodie having crawled to four off 40 balls.

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