Firebirds pull off great escape




Mainpower Oval, Rangiora

29 February - 3 March 2024


Wellington Firebirds: 17

Canterbury: 8

Auckland Aces: 8 

Central Stags: 7

Otago Volts: 7

Northern Districts: 5


Chad Bowes - 9th first-class century, 2nd century before lunch

Rhys Mariu - 2nd first-class century

Nick Kelly - 5th first-class century

Angus McKenzie - first-class career-best bowling

Muhammad Abbas - 2nd first-class century


When your opponent piles on one of their biggest first innings totals, the odds swing out of your favour. But the Wellington Firebirds weren't about to let the laws of cricket probability stop them against Canterbury in Rangiora in their Plunket Shield fifth-round clash.

The match was an important one for Canterbury - last year's first-class runner-up, having lost only on countback to the Stags, as they looked to move up from fourth on the ladder with just four rounds to go.

They'd had some wretched luck in the pre-Christmas rounds, and now they were sent in at their usual fortress, out in the country. The mood would have been bright after the first day, but the game rapidly swung around 180 degrees against them thanks to a spectacular second-innings collapse.

The Firebirds couldn't believe their luck as they went top of the table, usurping former leader Northern Districts (who meanwhile had a rain-affected draw) by one point ahead of the last three games. Canterbury remained parked in fourth.

Scores: Canterbury 526, Wellington Firebirds 308, Canterbury 109, Wellington Firebirds 328/5

Result: Wellington Firebirds won by 5 wickets


Fresh off lifting The Ford Trophy championship, Canterbury got into a strong position from the get-go in Rangiora, going to stumps at 404/4.

Opener Chad Bowes (114 off 110 balls) scored a blistering century before lunch, becoming the first New Zealand batter to twice score a century before lunch on the opening day of a Plunket Shield match, having also achieved the feat against the Otago Volts in Dunedin, last season

All images: PHOTOSPORT

His fellow opener Rhys Mariu also went on to a century, reaching a career best, patient 145.

So far, so very good.

It was 22-year-old Mariu's second first-class hundred, after a 197-run first-wicket stand - broken after almost 35 overs of punishment for the Firebirds attack, with Bowes finally caught off Michael Snedden.

Brutal Bowes had hit 16 boundaries and a six by then, and Mariu (above) would produce 18 boundaries himself before he was castled by Logan van Beek.

Their solid efforts were topped up by captain Cole McConchie's 82 as the Firebirds struggled to make breakthroughs at Mainpower Oval.

McConchie put on 126 with Mariu for the third, after the opening stand had reached 197. Of the top order, only Ken McClure, back from injury at last, lucked out as he guided a catch to gully off van Beek.


Canterbury ploughed on from their solid overnight 404/4 to post one of their 16 highest first-class totals: 526 in 127.3 overs, before young Muhammad Abbas took their final wicket on the stroke of lunch.

Canterbury also netted the maximum four batting bonuses available to them, but Firebirds captain Nick Kelly made sure his side made a good fist of the reply by scoring his fifth first-class century (third for the Firebirds).

Kelly got to a big one, 138 before he was bowled by Ish Sodhi.

Kelly had constructed century stands with both Gareth Severin and Muhammad Abbas by then – the latter unbeaten on 30* by stumps, the Firebirds 256/5 and trailing by 270 on the first innings.


This one will go down as a day Canterbury would like to forget.

After having powered through their first innings a couple of days earlier, their second innings saw the hosts bowled out for a skimpy 109 as the Firebirds hauled themselves right back into the game.

It goes down in the Plunket Shield records as the largest variance from a team’s first to second innings.

The Firebirds earlier conceded a first-innings deficit of 218, bowled out for 308.

Angus McKenzie took a first-class career best 4/64 for Canterbury, while his brother Jock was busy scoring runs for the Auckland Aces against the Otago Volts on his first-class debut further south.

Canterbury got off to a horror start. Fresh off his century before lunch on the opening day, Bowes was on his way for a four-ball duck, thanks to allrounder Nathan Smith.

Then first drop McClure had the cruel misfortune to be struck on the back of the helmet while running a quick single, retiring hurt after only 13 balls.

Canterbury’s other first-innings centurion, Mariu, was also soon on his way at the hands of Smith, too.

In fact, the feisty allrounder proceeded to rip through the Canterbury line-up, finishing with a blistering bag of 6/36, off just 14.4 overs. It was his new career best in first-class cricket, going past his 6/54 for the Firebirds two seasons ago.

After Smith had snared the last wicket, that left the Firebirds with an unexpectedly juicy chase of 328 in almost four sessions to win.

They’d reached 54/2 by stumps, meaning a further 274 will be required on the last day if the second-placed Wellingtonians were to maintain their edge over the chasing Plunket Shield pack.


At the age of just 20, Abbas had his second first-class century after an unbeaten 110* helped bring home a shock five-wicket win for the visitors - lifting the Firebirds to the top of the table.

Abbas teamed up with Smith to seal the only outright win of a dramatic round, the other two games finishing in tense draws.

Smith backed up his superb, career best 6/36 on the previous day with an unbeaten knock of 75* in the afternoon, in an unbroken 148*-run stand for the sixth wicket, with Abbas.

Having scored a whopping 526 in their first innings, Canterbury's second innings collapse at the hands of Smith was their undoing at their Rangiora fortress.

It let the Firebirds able cast a ladder over the parapet with a relatively pleasing second innings target of 328 to win.

Ish Sodhi still managed to cause the Firebirds a flutter of nerves when he completely bamboozled Callum McLachlan at 180/5 – McLachlan shouldering arms, only to watch the ball cannon onto his off stump.

Sean Davey was challenging, too, bowling 17 overs and conceding only 32 runs, with five maidens.

But Smith and Abbas saw the visiting side home, after early half centuries from Gareth Severin and Kelly (again) did the groundwork for the successful chase.








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