Queen's Park, Invercargill, 1-3 FEBRUARY 2019
- Holder Southland drew with Zone 4 challenger Mid-Canterbury
- Southland retains the Hawke Cup
At opposite ends of the South Island, white line fever was taking hold in two three-day matches, with all eyes on a singular prize.
At Invercargill's temperate Queen's Park, Hawke Cup holders Southland stepped over the rope into their first defence of their new reign, the first of the 2018/19 season and its first in 26 years.
As tradition dictates, it would be against the fellow Zone 4 representatives Mid-Canterbury who had earned the regional right to the first challenge.
Meanwhile in Blenheim, a classic rivalry was reignited as neighbouring associations Marlborough and Nelson locked horns in the Zone 3 Final to determine who would be the next Hawke Cup challenger, against the winner of the concurrent match in Southland.
In Invercargill, Southland took in a squad that included up-and-coming left-arm spinner Ben Lockrose, who represented New Zealand Under 19 last season and has already stepped out for the Otago Volts in all three formats; and Jason Domigan who is also the manager of the Southland Cricket Association.
Southland captain Shaun Fitzgibbon batted first after having won the toss and, despite losing three wickets in the first session, his side fought back into a useful position, Amarpreet Singh reaching his half century before tea and going on to 71 at run-a-ball pace, after an 87-run stand for the sixth wicket with Domigan.
The GM would carry on to play an important role at the back end of the innings before becoming the last man to fall after an innings of 73. By then, however, Southland had piled on 382 in their first dig, number eleven batsman Jason Osborne remarkably top-scoring with an unbeaten 86 off just 53 balls, including 14 boundaries and one six.
He and Domigan had shared a whopping 117-run stand for the last wicket after Jack Mockford's departure at 265 for nine, at which point Mid-Canterbury were no doubt mentally prepping for an impending run chase.
However, the plucky last pair put on a show for the next 24 and a half overs, frustrating the challengers into the second morning. Play had got underway on day two at 317 for nine after an early shower, the last pair posting the 350 and then the 100-stand before Alex Hooper finally took the last wicket, Hooper finishing with 3-77.
It was a tough act to follow and Mid-Canterbury got off to a shaky start, losing their top three for just 19 runs among them. James Southby (40 off 90 balls) and Archie Redfern (73 off 176 balls) patiently steadied the ship, but when Mockford prised them apart with Southby's wicket after a 69-run stand for the fourth wicket, Redfern pretty much carried the can on his own until becoming the last wicket to fall at 166.
His dismissal completed a well deserved five-wicket bag for young Lockrose whose 5-55 off 19.3 overs included six maidens as he rattled his way through the lower order.
Southland did not enforce the follow-on but added to their first-innings lead of 216 before stumps, resuming day three at 11 for one but with first drop Danyn Stewart (ex-Waikato Valley and Northern Maori) having had to retire not out on 6*.
With Southland 167 for three by lunch on the final day, the writing was all but on the wall for Mid-Canterbury. Harsh Visavadiya (60) had already posted his half ton before the break and James Ng would follow suit early in the next session.
Ng just knuckled down and kept on batting, and by three in the afternoon he had reached his maiden Southland century with the same stroke that raised the Southland 250. By then, with Hamish Skelt's support he had taken the overall lead to 469, and, when he plundered another four boundaries off Shaun Stagg in the 69th over they also stood on the cusp of their 100-stand for the fifth wicket.
Mid-Canterbury's challenge would end a couple of overs later with Southland at 275 for five, the match called after Ng was bowled on 119 off 134 balls (18 boundaries, three sixes). Skelt's 30 not out included five boundaries.
Southland's next challenger will be Zone 3 champion Nelson who claimed a convincing first-innings win on the same afternoon over Marlborough, Central Stags Plunket Shield captain Greg Hay having led the way with his 180 and having shared a 164-run seventh wicket stand with fellow first-class representative Felix Murray (92). Earlier, youngster Thomas Zohrab had also claimed 5-25 for the team. The three-day challenge will begin on Friday 15 February in Invercargill.
Southland was the very first holder of the Hawke Cup in 1911, and it became its guardian for the winter of 2018, after having ended Counties-Manukau's maiden reign in the final Challenge of 2017/18 with a shiny 10-wicket victory.