Otago Volts defeated the Central Stags by three wickets
University of Otago Oval, Dunedin
10-13 March 2020
Bonus Points: Volts 6, Stags 5
Total points this round: Volts 18, Stags 5
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.
Only three days of play was possible in Dunedin but after the Volts declared behind on day three, it would prove long enough for a classic finish - the Volts beating the Central Stags in a Plunket Shield match for the first time since February 2011.
But before the hosts could take off on their successful run chase, the Stags had to set them a target, and fast, on the last morning. A Will Young century was the highlight for the Stags as they raced to slap quick runs on the board to make a game of it.
Having lost the first day to rain, then lost the toss, the Stags had been playing catch-up all along in the quest for an outright victory, with news now already having filtered through that rivals the Wellington Firebirds had extended their points table lead by wrapping up their innings victory in Auckland.
So, after the loss of George Worker the previous evening, Young and captain Greg Hay poured on a racy 184-run stand for the second wicket. Young galloped to his eighth first-class hundred with a sprinkling of slogs thrown in, before kicking on to an undefeated 133* off just 118 balls.
He added a further three sixes to the three he had belted the previous evening and, after losing Hay (76) at 204 for two, recombined with Dane Cleaver (below) who pelted an unbeaten 26* off just 13 balls as Volts captain Jacob Duffy sent his men to the boundary again.
Hay declared at 256 for two: that left the Volts a chase of 288 to win in 76 overs (minimum) with the sun breaking through right on cue. Could they chase it down for two wins on the bounce?
By lunch, the Volts had already lost their first wicket, 35/1 (11 overs) after Ben Wheeler had Anaru Kitchen caught: 253 runs off 65 overs still needed at 3.89 per over.
By tea, the Volts were five down, still trailing by 144 - having knocked off exactly half the run chase.
The Stags were still in the hunt as well, Ajaz Patel with three wickets after a fierce display of his art, Wheeler having atoned for dropping a catch by taking a fine running grab to dismiss dangerous Dean Foxcroft on 51. Tension hovered over the park and the formula was still in place for a classic finish.
Already with two fine partnerships to their names together this summer, Michael Rippon and Nathan Smith now stood in the visitors' way in the last session, but when Blair Tickner came on for his first spell after the break he trapped Smith LBW with his first delivery: six down, and the 41-run stand nipped off.
Rippon was not done, however, and would become the hero of the last afternoon.
He reached a half century in a seventh-wicket stand with Dale Phillips as the Stags looked increasingly to the diminishing number of overs left on the scoreboard.
Down to the last 50 runs, and the Volts needed just run-a-ball now, as first Brad Schmulian then Willem Ludick entered the attack fresh in a desperate search for wickets.
Twenty-four runs required, and suddenly Doug Bracewell - who had been unlucky more than once earlier in the day with catches going down off his bowling - finally got a reward: Phillips bowled.
It would be the Stags' last hurrah. The pair had put on 84 together as they upped the run rate to run-a-ball, the finish line in sight.
Captain Duffy chipped in five runs while Rippon (above) took the responsibilty, pelting a couple of sixes in the last two overs to ease the pressure before winning the match with a boundary off the luckless Bracewell.
Rippon finished unbeaten on 95*, off 111 balls.
It was a memorable win for the Volts - against a side that had handed them two innings defeats the previous season. And, a bitter blow to the Stags' threepeat hopes ahead of a top-of-the-table showdown against the Wellington Firebirds in Napier.
Now, trailing by 26 points, even if the second-placed Stags took the full 20 points from that impending seventh round, the Firebirds would be in control of their own destiny for the rest of the competition.
The Volts meanwhile had jumped up to third on the table, breathing down the Stags' necks - the two teams destined to meet again in Napier in the final round of the summer.
A relentless Ajaz Patel bowled a marathon 25-over spell in Dunedin as the sun finally popped out over University of Otago Oval — for the first two sessions, at least — but the host’s wickets wouldn’t fall fast enough for the Stags’ liking in the weather-shortened contest.
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Patel finished with 4-87 when the Volts declared at tea, his highlights having included a diving return catch to dismiss Michael Rippon and, earlier, another good dive by Will Young at slip that dismissed opener Anaru Kitchen on 73*.
Kitchen had fashioned an 86-stand for the second with Dean Foxcroft (40) that ate up valuable time from the visitors’ perspective — Foxcroft was fortunate to be there after having offered an early chance.
Eventually the Stags picked up their third bowling bonus point courtesy of Doug Bracewell’s first wicket of the season — looking like he’d never been away. However, they were denied the full set when Jacob Duffy declared 31 runs behind.
Mitch Renwick (above) was left unbeaten on 74* against his former side and, with just four sessions left in the match, the pressure now went back on the Stags to up the pace for a shot at a result — no doubt fully aware rivals the Firebirds were screeching ahead in Auckland.
Temperatures plunged as the skies misted over once more in the final session, but an unbroken 92-run stand for the second wicket between captain Greg Hay (32*) and Will Young (61*) lifted the Stags’ spirits. Young had just thumped his third six, off Foxcroft, out of the park — lost ball; when bad light ended play at 112/1 after 25 overs, a lead of 143 to take into the final morning.
Bonus points (completed): Volts 6, Stags 5
After a day one washout, the Stags-Volts match finally got going in damp Dunedin with home captain Jacob Duffy winning the toss & bowling on a fresh deck — on an overcast day that felt like someone had left the fridge door open, mercury at nine degrees celsius for the first ball.
The Stags almost had their first 50 runs on the board before the first of two key runouts that would bookend their innings.
George Worker was the first victim, as the non-striker responding to Greg Hay’s call for a quick single.
It was a nifty piece of work from bowler Matt Bacon who sprinted across the pitch in front of an equally sprinting Worker (the two by some deft miracle somehow managing not to collide).
Diving Bacon gathered the ball with one hand, throwing it at an awkward angle behind him from silly-somewhere and straight onto the sticks, Worker only just out of his ground.
The last runout, of last man Blair Tickner by Michael Rippon who parried it to a waiting Duffy, was a tad less brilliant, yet more significant in the grand scheme of things in that it needlessly cost the Stags a third batting bonus point that they should otherwise have pocketed with ease — if the last pair hadn’t tried to urgently scramble the two when just three further runs and cool heads were needed.
Hanging on to third on the table, the Stags need every point they can get and the last wicket also cost Willem Ludick (47*) a half century after a fair fightback.
Hay’s 83 and a 95-run stand between Brad Schmulian (68) and Doug Bracewell (40, in his first first-class act of the season) were the other chief contributors to a dig of 297 all out with a rejigged order.
Duffy had pegged things back nicely by putting himself on a hat-trick with the wickets of Ben Smith and Dane Cleaver, who cursed his first-baller.
Michael Rae and Matt Bacon both charged in for a brace as the Volts took the full allotment of bowling bonus points, then their batsmen reached 38 for no loss in the last 11 overs of an oscillating contest - still with no verified sightings of a rumoured sun for the duration of the 93.2 overs.
Bonus points (in progress): Volts 4, Stags 2
After a 27-degree Dunner Stunner the day before the cricket started, at University of Otago Oval there was no play at all on the first scheduled day of the four-dayer between defending champions the Central Stags — itching to get out of third on the table — and hosts the Otago Volts — itching for another win; with a toss not possible.
The forecast was scheduled to improve over the ensuing three days, but hanging about playing cards and watching the other games advance — particularly in Auckland — will have done neither side’s nerves any favours...