Curtis Heaphy | All images MBUTCHER

Monster total in vain for stymied Stags




Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North

8-11 March 2024



Central Stags : fourth highest first-class total (572/9 declared)

Peter Pasco (below) : first-class umpiring debut

Greg Stretch : first-class Match Referee debut

Ajaz Patel : 100th first-class match (all teams)

Central Stags : fourth highest first-class total

Curtis Heaphy : maiden first-class century

Brad Schmulian : sixth first-class century


All images: MBUTCHER


The Central Stags plastered their fourth highest ever first-class total on Fitzherbert Park as they looked to move up the Plunket Shield ladder, before it was too late.

Yet a defiant Wellington Firebirds nightwatchman - and some ill-timed wet weather interventions - conspired against them, in a scenario that, nine times out of 10, would surely have produced an innings victory.

Coming off another weather-affected draw in Mt Maunganui against the other leading team (ND) - where the Stags had also had the better chance of taking a victory, it was the last thing they had needed, as they sought to get back in the championship hunt for the trophy sitting at their headquarters in Hawke's Bay.


A big match for both teams at the three-quarter mark of the national championship began with... a frustrating wait. Early rain delayed the toss on a cool first morning until after lunch, play starting at 1PM.

How costly that loss of time would prove.

Stags captain Greg Hay eventually won the toss, putting the Firebirds in - with a trio of wickets falling before tea.

Blair Tickner | MBUTCHER

Tim Robinson departed early, but Nick Greenwood and Gareth Severin combined well for the second wicket, Greenwood chalking up a brisk half ton before he nicked off against Josh Clarkson soon after.

Clarkson was proving himself to be a regular wicket-taker in all formats, while Greenwood's positive contribution of 54 would prove to be the Firebirds' top score as most of the rest of his team got a start, without kicking on.

The Stags had the misfortune to lose left-arm seamer Ray Toole from their attack to a side injury, meaning Ajaz Patel and his mates would have to to carry an additional workload from here on.

By tea, the Firebirds had got to 123/3, Nick Kelly and Mo Abbas underway. Kelly reached 31 after the break, before feathering Clarkson to the keeper as well.

Abbas pressed on to 41. The youngster showed patience as he duelled with Patel and his box of all-sorts. Abbas finally fell just short of a fifty, caught off the spinner at 221/5.

Callum McLachlan did manage to get to a fifty before stumps, by which time the visitors were 242/5.


The first over of the morning delivered the set batter's wicket, McLachlan caught off Patel for no addition to his 51.

The spinner had opened the day pending the imminent arrival of the new ball and, as the pacemen took over, the Firebirds had their work cut out trying to up the scoring rate to get further bonus points.

They would finish with just two points for their batsmanship - bowled out just five runs shy of a third bonus, the Stags meanwhile taking all four for bowling, Wellington dismissed for 295. All points, at this stage, mattered a great deal.

Patel finished with 2/51 in his 100th first-class match, and had broken the key partnership. Then Dudding (4/67) mopped up the tail by snaffling three quick wickets, with help from Tickner, to move things along quickly.

Apart from Dudding (above), the rest of the Stags’ frontline attack each picked up a brace - collectively compensating for the loss of Toole. Yet there was a sense the left-armer had unfortunately lost a tasty opportunity in his home conditions, that would have really suited his bowling.

A maiden first-class century to 20-year-old Stag Curtis Heaphy in his home town of Palmerston North would be the highlight of the day as the defending champs began manouevring into a strong position.

Heaphy got a good start with Jack Boyle for the first wicket, the Stags 54/0 by lunch.

Boyle fell soon after on 26 to Logan van Beek, but Stags captain Hay settled the dust down quickly, and Heaphy and Hay saw out the rest of the session.

By tea, the scampering, energetic Heaphy had his third half century on the bounce, his fifty coming off just 73 balls. Somehow Hay (above), at nearly 40 years of age, managed to keep up with him.

By tea, the captain had reached 38* as the runs began to flow. On 45, he would go after the break as van Beek struck again - with a little luck, too. A swallow had darted in front of the ball just as Hay went to play his shot.

The bird was unharmed, but Hay met his demise - ruing not having pulled out of the shot at the last moment. Even after 7,000 first-class runs, there was a first time for everything.

The wicket brought Brad Schmulian to the middle and the Firebirds would become sick of the sight of the well matched new pair now embarking on a significant third-wicket stand.

Before long, Heaphy and Schmulian had a century partnership, in just 95 minutes. By stumps, the big moment had also arrived for Heaphy as he reached his maiden first-class century.

Schmulian had enjoyed a bat wave as well by then, racing to a fast fifty in support; 52 not out off just 72 balls. The Stags were on top.


Resuming at 262/2 in the first innings, Heaphy was unbeaten on 109* with Schmulian. It spelt trouble for the Firebirds as the pair saw off the new ball, and quickly took their team past the 300-mark.

By lunch, the busy Schmulian had his own ton, his sixth first-class century - and he had a penchant for going big.

The session was marred only by the loss of Heaphy on 131 and then, in the same Iain McPeake over, the departure of Tom Bruce, for no score in his first game back since being allowed out to play league cricket overseas.

It was a double wicket maiden for McPeake, who now looked at a scoreboard reading 345/4 instead of 345/2.

But the runs kept coming. After his 191-run third-wicket stand with Heaphy, Schmulian went on to top-score with 186, as the Stags poured on their fourth highest ever first-class total: a mammoth 572/9.

After a long day in the field, it just got worse for the Wellingtonians who would lose three second-innings wickets late in the day, at 60/3 – still needing a further 217 runs to make the Stags bat again heading into the final day.

The Stags appeal against nightwatchman Iain McPeake | MBUTCHER

The battle between the defending champions and the current leaders was looking distinctly one-sided.

The Stags had taken the maximum eight first innings points, and would net the full 20 points if they could cash in with a win.

The Wellington Firebirds had just three first innings points which wouldn't be enough to maintain the Plunket Shield lead, should the Stags shut them out here in Palmy.


The Stags began the last day looking for an innings victory. But the pesky wet weather that had delayed the start of the game returned, truncating the first session and ultimately, the amount of time available in the day.

The Firebirds were happy for this of course. The Stags, not so much, given a now fairly benign surface.

Nightwatchman Iain McPeake (above) resumed at 60/3 with Tim Robinson on 26 not out, with few suspecting the big role McPeake would play on the final day at wind-whipped park.

Although there was little zing in the pitch, conditions were not pleasant in the middle.

Once play got underway, the big McPeake would plough on to become key figure for his side. He picked and punched his way to 44 - disappointed to fall just four runs short of his career best 48.

More importantly, he occupied the crease for an impressive, and stubborn and patient, three and a half hours.

Robinson went on to a fifty in 94 balls, but by lunch he had departed and the Firebirds were 138/4.

By tea, the Stags had got them six down. Just four wickets were needed, now, for a huge win - and potentially, innings victory.

The Stags felt the loss of Toole, however, as Hay cycled through the rest of his attack - spinner Ajaz Patel delivering a marathon 49 overs for just one wicket in the last innings. Quite the way to celebrate one's 100th first-class game.

Even paceman Tickner bowled a big 28 overs for his three wickets, and Jack Boyle (below) made a rare appearance at the bowling crease.

From a highly defensive position, the Firebirds kept match kept their heads cool, kept fighting to hold onto their last wicket long enough to perhaps salvage a remarkable draw.

At the start of the last hour, Logan van Beek was doing a good job of that on 40*, and had Callum McLachlan with him on 24* for support, the Firebirds 264/7.

The Stags kept at them and would push them hard. Patel trapped McLachlan on 36, then lion-hearted Tickner got Jesse Tashkoff caught behind on 23, and Schmulian trapped his fellow leg-spinner Peter Younghusband for no score.

Hay was canny. How often does a leg-spinner play against his peers in the nets, after all?

Now the Firebirds were nine down, on the brink, van Beek unbeaten on 52*. But the clock was winding down. Shortly before 6PM, time was called.

The Firebirds had succeeded in inching past their big deficit, meaning the Stags would have had to bat again briefly for a handful of runs to win - and it was deemed that there was not enough time left in the day for the Stags to begin that fourth innings. And so it was that the teams shook hands on a glum, cold ManawatΕ« evening.

Central had toiled so hard to take wickets as the Wellingtonians shut up shop for the day, while the Wellingtonians had fought so hard and patiently to deny them.

But it was a disappointing finish for the Stags who had slathered on their fourth highest ever first-class total over the previous two days of 572/9 declared.

The defending Plunket Shield champions will not be sending the Auckland Aces any Christmas cards this year, either, after the Aces meanwhile failed to see out the last two balls of their concurrent match against Northern Districts.

Had that match in Hamilton ended in a draw, the top of the table would still be a congested affair between ND and the Firebirds, with the Stags a good sniff in third - with two rounds still to go at the business end of the national first-class cricket championship.

But shortly after the Firebirds had denied the Central Stags the 20-pointer in Palmerston North, the Aces lost in Hamilton, and ND, the new leader, streaked ahead on the ladder.

POINTS TABLE after 6 of 8 championship rounds

Northern Districts 80

Wellington Firebirds 67

Central Stags 58

Canterbury 48

Otago Volts 43

Auckland Aces 29






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