Defending champions bow out in shock loss

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McLean Park, Napier

16-19 March 2024


Wellington Firebirds: 20

Canterbury: 19

Auckland Aces: 17

Central Stags: 7

Otago Volts: 6

Northern Districts: 3



All images: PHOTOSPORT

Glenn Walklin : first appointment to a first-class match (previous debut as a replacement umpire)

Sean Solia: 7000 first-class career runs (all teams)

Greg Hay : 7000 first-class career runs (all teams)

Dane Cleaver : Central Stags all-time first-class wicketkeeping dismissals record

Jordan Sussex : maiden first-class five-wicket bag


Central began with the game still an outside chance of retaining their title, but the miserable run of late season luck continue -albeit with an all-time team wicketkeeping record to celebrate.

Meanwhile, occasional Ace Jordan Sussex had a blinder in just his second game in two years, getting Auckland their belated first win.


Dane Cleaver was a busy man behind the stumps as the Stags bowled out the bottom of the table Auckland Aces for 240 on the opening day of a big game for the hosts.

After his skipper Greg Hay won the toss at an unseasonally chilly McLean Park, Cleaver took five catches off his pacemen - while none of the Aucklanders was able to reach a half century.


Two wickets fell before lunch, three in the middle session, and that the Aces kicked on into the last session was largely all due to their number seven, Jock McKenzie.


Handy all-round halfback McKenzie continued to show he was pretty adept at this first-class cricket business as well as rugby, as he top-scored for the visitors with 48 - providing some important runs for his side.

He had been lucky to survive against Liam Dudding earlier in his innings, after a big LBW shout.

That was followed by two nerve-jangling French cuts that came within a whisker of his stumps β€” all in the space of three balls.


Dudding eventually got his man, to finish with 3/63 - but not before McKenzie had stuck around and annoyed him like a fly around food.

Bowling a heavy ball, Blair Tickner was meanwhile challenging, in the wickets again with 4/62.


He had opened the attack with Doug Bracewell, the senior allounder back from injury.

Bracewell had conceded only five runs off his opening five-over spell, and went on to finish with a miserly 1/18 from his 15 across the day. But his impact was short-lived, as the his knee gripes that dated all the way back to the days of the old Yarrow Stadium flared up again.


The Aces lost their final wicket on the stroke of stumps, meaning they would take the new ball in the morning as the Stags got a night's rest before their first-innings reply.


The Stags lost three big wickets before lunch. Test batsman Will Young had come in for his first red-ball appearance for his team all season, and he was the first to depart - bowled on 14 as Danru Ferns dug one in.


Young apprentice Curtis Heaphy had been in a good run of form, fresh off his maiden century and with back to back half centuries before that.

He made it to 25 before he danced down to spinner Louis Delport, keeper Cam Fletcher whipping the bails off in a flash when Heaphy missed.

Brad Schmulian was also fresh off a big ton in Palmerston North, and joined the captain Greg Hay (continuing to play at first drop this season) at 74/2 in the 26th over.


Schmulian's stay was a relatively short one, but Hay rebuilt with Tom Bruce. Hay (above) had reached 40 with Bruce still fresh at the crease by lunch, at 92/3.

After the break, the potent duo crafted a 92-run stand. But before they got to three figures, Jordan Sussex, in from the cold, trapped Hay on 79.


Bruce (above) continued on to build another good stand with Dane Cleaver, this time reaching a partnership mark of 91.

But Cleaver departed soon after reaching his half century, nicking Lister - who had the new ball - to Fletcher.

Like Hay, Bruce (95) would be left kicking himself in the afternoon after missing out on a century opportunity after all the hard yakka.

And like Hay, he fell victim to the right-arm paceman Jordan Sussex - a 30-year-old physiotherapist appearing for the Aces for just the second time in two years.

Sussex's only other Plunket Shield and Aces appearance had been at this same venue in April 2022, when he took 3/36 on debut. Now he had 2/53 as the teams walked in for the day, with the Stags set to begin the third morning - moving day - teetering somewhat at 286/6 after 95 overs.


Stags wicketkeeper Cleaver had a day to remember in Napier, breaking the Central Stags' all-time record for first-class dismissals - a mark previously held by another ManawatΕ« stalwart, Bevan Griggs.


But first things first: the Stags had to get some more runs in their first innings, before any of that could unfold.

Resuming at 286/6, Josh Clarkson and Ajaz Patel (as nightwatchman, ahead of Bracewell) now had the care of the innings, both wth starts. Two more batting bonuses were on the table if they could push along the runs, and at this stage, every point mattered to the Stags.

But not only would the Stags have to settle for just one of them, by 111.3 overs they were all out. With 340 on the board, their lead was exactly 100. Now, the pacemen went back to work.

Bracewell again opened the innings with a short, and tidy, five-over spell - enough time to bowl Will O'Donnell. But he would not bowl again.


Dudding took over and got Sean Solia caught behind in the 12th over, a regulation nick to Cleaver that saw the Stags keeper draw equal with their all-time top first-class dismissals man, Bevan Griggs - who accounted for 232 victims in his career.

Robbie O'Donnell and Mark Chapman then hit back for the Aces, going to lunch at 53/2 then rustling up a third-wicket stand over 17 overs that reached 96 runs, and at a good clip.


Chapman gave his side impetus with his breezy top score of 83 off just 64 balls, including 14 boundaries and a six and the Aces were 138/3 before the Stags had him caught off Ajaz Patel.

New man George Worker departed soon after, and that was a special one for his former teammates.

Cleaver, as mentioned, had begun the day at McLean Park needing one more dismissal to equal Griggs's record of 232, and two to set a new mark outright - which he did in style with a superb, diving leg-side take to dismiss Worker (yet another ManawatΕ« rep), changing direction in the process.

Griggs said he was thrilled to see his record fall. "Dane deserves to lead the way. He's been remarkable for the Central Districts Association and it's a testament to his longevity.


"Like myself, he's also benefited from a great seam attack, and above all he's a great person."

The teams left the field for bad light on the third afternoon when the Aces were 176/4 in their second innings - the visitors now leading overall by 76 runs with six wickets in hand.

In between leaving the field for bad light, getting back on again, and coming back off again for bad light again, the Central Stags snaffled two further wickets before the end of play at a 6.40PM.

Aces captain Robbie O'Donnell | PHOTOSPORT


The Aces would resume on 225/6, leading by 125 overall with four wickets in hand - after having lost both captain Robbie O'Donnell (42) and Cam Fletcher (38) in the last session of the penultimate day.

In theory, advantage Stags - but nothing can be taken for granted in a game of red-ball.

The defending champions would drop out of the Plunket Shield race with a thud on the last afternoon in Napier β€” a 41-run loss giving the bottom-of-the-table Aucklanders their first win all season in this format.


Pesky showers had made it an on-off-on-off day in Napier, and each break only heightened the tension for the Stags as the circumstances conspired against them.

To recap, the Stags had needed an outright victory to remain an outside chance to defend their trophy.

They set out in the late morning needing a second innings effort of just 182, after having taken the Aces' final four wickets in a hurry in the first hour of play.

So far, so good. But the Aces of pace, Sussex and Lister, relished the enlivened conditions, and would ultimately rattle through the Stags' line-up.

Both openers, Young and Heaphy, fell to Sussex for single figures. Hay looked positive in his intent until he miscued Lister on 12. Schmulian and Bruce finally got a partnership going, putting on 44 before Schmulian (24) became Sussex's third victim in the middle session.

Bruce (27) followed him in at 86/5, and the Stags were officially in trouble while chasing a modest target.

Cleaver took over and by tea, the Stags had inched to 95/5, still another 87 runs required, Cleaver and Clarkson both just off the mark.

Cleaver would hold the fought for more than an hour and a half, for just 21 runs as the Stags battled.

Clarkson put Sussex on a new career best four-fa, on the cusp of a bag, now. Then Doug Bracewell, carrying an injury, was bowled by left-arm Lister when the hosts had still needed just 57 to win.

The Stags made the job tough for themselves when they lost their last two recognised batters in quick succession. Cleaver was the set batter, the last real hope, but he gave Sussex his maiden bag just four balls later β€” exposing the tail.


It was the key to the quick finish the Aces desired, and Sussex finished with a fine personal haul 6/46 - eight wickets, in all, from a memorable match. Perhaps Auckland should invite him to Napier more often.

The Plunket Shield would now be heading to either Hamilton or Wellington in just over a week’s time. All eyes will be on Seddon Park.

Meanwhile the Aces would be hosting Canterbury in a dead rubber in Auckland, and the Stags hosting the Otago Volts in another hollow match in Napier, from Sunday 24 to Wednesday 27 March, no doubt pondering what might have been had it not rained when they were in control in their previous matches.






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