Three on the bounce this summer | HBCA

Johnson almighty as Hawke's Bay defends Hawke Cup again

2023/24 Zone 1 Challenge at Napier's Nelson Park

Holder HAWKE'S BAY defeated Challenger COUNTIES MANUKAU on the first innings

Hawke's Bay retains the Hawke Cup

9-11 February 2024

Nelson Park, Napier

After having uplifted the Hawke Cup from Rangiora in a delayed 2022/23 Zone 2 Challenge at the start of this summer, and then seeing off the 2023/24 Zone 2 Challenge from Manawatū, Hawke's Bay extended its tenure - in a good battle with a good Counties Manukau unit.

To claim the century-old Hawke Cup, Counties Manukau would need to either win outright, or beat Hawke's Bay on the first innings in the event of a draw.

Counties Manukau last challenged for the Hawke Cup in the 2017/18 season, ending a year-long tenure by a strong Bay of Plenty side. They then went on to resist Challenges from both Taranaki and Canterbury Country, before surrendering the precious piece of silver to Southland - the original Hawke Cup holder at the start of the 20th century - at the end of that summer.

The umpires are ready!

DAY ONE

Drizzly, grey weather delayed the start of play until mid-afternoon: a 3.15PM start.

After the long wait, Counties Manukau captain Sam Varcoe won the toss, understandably choosing to bowl in the conditions.

With The Ford Trophy having resumed, holder Hawke's Bay was without the raft of Central Stags who had fortified their line-up at Nelson Park in the previous defence, and the hosts were also without vastly experienced captain Angus Schaw who was unavailable.

That saw Dominic Thompson step up as home skipper, with four players - Sam Cassidy, Charlie Pawson, Josh Fairbrother and Lovepreet Padda - playing their first Hawke Cup match, with Fairbrother and Pawson also on Hawke's Bay senior men's debut.

Challenger Counties Manukau

Reid Somani was quickly into his work with the ball with an early wicket at 5/1, but the youthful pair of Toby Findlay - now elevated from his usual haunt in the tailend to open the innings - and Cassidy settled things down again quickly for the hosts as they crafted a 67-run second wicket stand.

The more adventurous Findlay fell shortly before tea for 35, and when Somani came back after the break, he trapped Cassidy on 41 for his 50th Counties Manukau wicket.

That left experienced allrounder Todd Watson to get a start for the Bay before stumps, with rookie Pawson, a son of former Central Stag Mike Pawson, for company as they got through to the end of the 46 overs that had been possible on the first afternoon.

DAY TWO

Hawke's Bay resumed on 137/4, young debutant and overnight batter Pawson an early loss before Watson cracked on to reach an important half century for his side, making sure the hosts got some momentum in a key session.

Counties Manukau kept the pressure on though... until a rearguard knock of 73 not out from Brett Johnson in a 79-run partnership with Lovepreet Padda (45) for the seventh wicket that gave Hawke's Bay the edge.

It was Central Stags and ex-Wellington rep Johnson's maiden half ton for Hawke's Bay.

Somani, the son of former Northern Districts and Nottinghamshire first-class leg-spinner Adil Somani, eventually broke the stand, and went on to a five-wicket bag with figures of 5/65 - his second five-for and best figures yet for his team.

Counties Manukau began their first innings reply after tea, reaching 85/2 by stumps with Luke Williamson and Sandeep Patel both having got starts.

DAY THREE

Resuming in warm conditions on the final Sunday, four wickets would fall in the morning session as Hawke's Bay sniffed a chance.

Neither overnight batter could press on, Liam McCarthy claiming both wickets to end a 49-run stand for the third - Marcel Marconi and Aryan Mann left to rebuild.

But Counties Manukau struggled to grow another stand of substance through the middle, as Johnson spun in and caused trouble.

He stopped Mann on 19 at 130/5, and had Somani caught at 162/6. By lunch, Counties Manukau was still trailing by 151, with just four in hand.

New man Rohit Gulati had just joined Marconi - who had laboured for more than two hours for his unbeaten 29* at the break, with a big job still to do to catch Hawke's Bay's first innings total.

A classic period of watchfulness followed as the challengers looked to buy time and dig in. But before the they could get to 200, or Marconi to his half century, another wicket fell: Johnson had Gulati caught and bowled at 182/7, giving the handy leg-spinner a bag to go with his top score.

Johnson (6/85) soon has his sixth, Counties Manukau still 112 runs away from their first-innings target. Marconi remained unbeaten on 55*, but he was running out of partners.

But with his side eight down, James Naylor found a couple of boundaries off Ben Stoyanoff to help chisel the target down to double figures.

Further chipping away by the visitors saw it turn into a long session for Hawke's Bay who struggled for the ninth wicket.

But just as the kettle was going on for tea, Marconi and Naylor's 44-run stand - that had breathed life back into the game for Counties Manukau - was broken.

Naylor had been caught off Stoyanoff for a gallant 32, and now a further 69 runs were needed, with just one wicket in hand. Marconi remained unbeaten on 66*, after almost three hours of vigilance.

Stoyanoff (2/64) wasn't done. With just a few overs left in the session, the big paceman proved too good for the number 10, and fighting Counties Manukau were all out for 256 in 103.4 overs before the break, a brutal deficit of 59 runs.

No one would have batted an eyelid if the captains had shaken hands then at the break, but it was a nice day for cricket, and both teams decided to enjoy some more fun in the final session.

Hawke's Bay openers Jono Whitley and Toby Findlay made the most of it, both finishing unbeaten after some quick runs and a fifty for Findlay.

Hawke's Bay now awaits a rematch with Canterbury Country - the very team from whom they had taken the silverware at the start of the season. Canterbury Country had gone away and beaten Nelson in the Zone 3 Final in the interim to win a chance to Challenge again, to get their precious back.

The winner of the next Challenge will then play Zone 4 qualifier, South Canterbury, in the final contest of the Hawke Cup summer.

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