CENTRAL STAGS beat OTAGO VOLTS by five wickets
Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North
21-24 March, 2023
First innings points:
Central Stags 4 bowling (maximum achieved), 4 batting (maximum achieved)
Otago Volts 2 batting, 4 bowling (maximum achieved)
Total points this round: Central Stags 20, Otago Volts 6
Jack Boyle: first-class debut for Central Stags (previously: Canterbury)
Andrew Hazeldine: first-class debut for Otago Volts (previously: Canterbury)
Toby Findlay: first-class debut (middle session, on Day 3 onwards)
Jack Boyle (above): second first-class century (first for Central Stags)
Jack Boyle: career best score
Jacob Cumming: career best score (both innings)
Jake Gibson (above): career best score
Tom Bruce: 100 first-class catches
Ajaz Patel: 22nd first-class five-wicket bag
Thorn Parkes: Maiden first-class century
* Round Eight is normally the last round of the season, however this summer the Stags and Auckland Aces have a match in hand - with their cyclone-postponed fifth round match to be played at Saxton Oval, Nelson from 1-4 April 2023
Heavy early morning rain saw the opening session of the game washed out, with a toss delayed until after an early lunch. Standing in front of distinctly green-hued pitch, there can be little doubt that both veteran captains, Central's Greg Hay and the Volts' Hamish Rutherford, would have fancied a toss win and a bowl, but it was Hay with the luck as the match finally got underway in the middle session, with a brisk breeze requiring jerseys.
Rutherford didn't have much luck at all, becoming an early wicket for Brett Randell at 10/1, but the Volts' fortunes improved in the session as the Stags shelled three catches.
All images: M BUTCHER
By tea, the Volts had made their way to 104/2, with Dean Foxcroft - one of several players, alongside Randell, named in the New Zealand A squad for the first time, earlier the same day - poised to raise a half century.
Foxcroft clipped his half ton off just 77 balls soon after tea, but would play on when he was on 70 to give local seamer Ray Toole a valuable wicket.
Toole had already dismissed opener Jacob Cumming and would end the day sitting on a three-for, while the young Cumming could take some solace from a career best first-innings score in a match that began with a minute's silence for his grandmother, and for a family bereavement of the Stags' former coach Rob Walter.
The Stags stormed back in the last session with a sharper effort in the field, and when a sun-shower brought the day to a close, the Volts were 195/7.
Led by Jake Gibson, the Otago Volts' tail wagged and not for the first time this season, the Stags frustrated to see their quarry adding a further 73 runs to their overnight score - the visitors having resumed at 195/7.
Ray Toole (4/78) picked up a further wicket to put himself in the frame for a bag at his home ground, but Gibson, batting below his station, had other plans and reached his half century off 81 balls.
His strengths were a counterpoint to the more traditional tailenders Andrew Hazeldine and Michael Rae who did their best to stick around. Gibson would eventually become the last to fall for his Plunket Shield career-best 68, the trio also havinng put on 68 for the last two wickets.
The Volts had extended their total to 268 on a sunnier morning, in 76.1 overs, while the Stags had picked up the maximum four bowling points they had been after.
Curtis Heaphy and Stags debutant Jack Boyle began the response before lunch as the latest new opening combination for the Stags, captain Greg Hay continuing his new role at first drop.
Heaphy fell victim to Rae before the break, but Boyle would make his debut knock count as he batted for the next five hours.
By tea, Boyle had helped steer the Stags from 21/1 to 129/3, buffering himself against a chilly wind that also brought the occasional speck of rain.
Hazeldine had picked up Hay as his first wicket in the Volts' blue, while Rae was ecstatic to remove the prodigious Brad Schmulian caught behind for just 24, after exactly an hour's toil from the number four with a penchant for scoring hundreds against Otago.
Spinners Ben Lockrose and Dean Foxcroft shouldered some of the load in the last session, with conditions once again sunny in a four-seasons-in-one-day kind of week.
Jacob Duffy was the first to strike after tea, however, with another big wicket in Tom Bruce.
Boyle meanwhile had begun to step up the pace of his innings, with his eye on his first first-class century in several seasons. He survived a vociferous shout in the 90s to reach the magic milestone on debut for his new team off 225 balls, in 268 minutes with 12 boundaries.
He celebrated by tonking Foxcroft for a six, and Dane Cleaver followed suit as they helped bank the first of four available batting bonuses, with every point counting for the side third on the ladder.
But Boyle's vigil would be over shortly afterwards on 117, as he became a third catch in the innings for Max Chu, this time off Lockrose at 216/5.
That left nightwatchman Ajaz Patel to see out the last few overs with Cleaver, the Stags reaching the halfway mark of the match at 225/5, trailing by 43 runs overnight.
The biting wind finally abated ahead of another dew-delayed morning, and there would be no more pesky showers on what would turn out to be a bittersweet day.
Towards the end of their first innings, strike bowler Brett Randell was struck on the helmet while batting, and would be replaced at lunchtime after developing a concussion.
Randell would take no further part in the game while second-generation Stag, 19-year-old Toby Findlay became the first player in the history of New Zealand first-class cricket to make his first-class debut as a concussion substitute.
Before the drama, Ajaz Patel for almost two hours across two days to reach 40, dominating a 67-run stand for the sixth with Dane Cleaver. Duffy picked up his second to stop Dane Cleaver just shy of his own half century at 283/6, then Patel fell a few overs later to Rae, one of six catches for busy Volts wicketkeeper Max Chu in the innings.
By now the Stags, still in contention for the Plunket Shield title, had two of the four possible first-innings batting points, but needed to get a move on, on moving day, with just 20 overs remaiming to get the full set.
They had the perfect person walking to the middle to get the job done.
Fresh off his maiden century in the previous match, Josh Clarkson batted with intent and aggression to smack 62 off just 50 balls, including 11 boundaries. He soon got the third batting bonus on the board with the help of Bevan Small, and the fourth with Randell, before Randell retired at lunch.
Findlay, who had been out in the middle about to have some bowing practice at lunch, found himself hearing that we would be heading out to bat, if a wicket fell.
Ray Toole had in the meantime stepped up as the new man at the crease, and after he was trapped by Ben Lockrose, Findlay went out to spend two balls at the non-strikers before Clarkson was finally captured at 381, a second wicket for Andrew Hazeldine on Volts debut.
The Stags had taken a 113-run first innings lead and now had an opportunity to shoot for all 20 poins in this crucial match of their campaign.
Findlay received his cap in the team huddle just before the team took the field, then promptly produced the first wicket with his first touch of the ball in first-class cficket - a moment's hesitation costing Volts captain Hamish Rutherford his wicket as Findlay fired in a direct hit to run him out in just the fourth over.
However, the Volts quickly settled to make sure their own chances of a win weren't thrown away. Young opener Jacob Cumming impressed again with his authoritative cover drives, reaching his maiden first-class half century after two hours, to the delight of his teammates.
But in the meantime Ajaz Patel had come on at fourth change and broken the 58-run stand with Dean Foxcroft - who would end the day being named Domestic Cricketer of the Year at the 2023 ANZ NZC Awards, a huge wicket for the Stags at 70/2, just before tea.
Bowling in tandem with Patel, paceman Findlay came into the attack for the first time in the 46th over, and began tidily with just three singles conceded off it. But Thorn Parkes and Dale Phillips were both set, and eyeing up an opportunity to get the scoreboard moving again in the late afternoon sun.
Phillips found several more boundaries before the fifth ball of Findlay's third over delivered a maiden first-class wicket, the Stags sprinting to congratulate Findlay again as umpire Sanders raised the finger for an LBW.
Phillips was gone for 33, and it triggered a valuable flurry for the Stags as Patel whirled on to grab two in an over and leg-spinner Brad Schmulian picked up his first wicket to end the day, the Volts 182/7 after 59.5 overs and leading overall by just 69.
Thorn Parkes would resume on an unbeaten 50* with a big role to perform for his team if they were to survive the last day of their 2022/23 season.
After another half hour dew delay, Ajaz Patel picked up his 22nd first-class bag as the Stags soon chipped out two of the three wickets they needed.
But 22-year-old overnight batsman Thorn Parkes remained, with a career best 96 heading into this game.
He continued to lead the way for his side as he helped push the overall lead into three figures, and then himself in three figures for the first time - running three to take himself to 99* before the magic moment at last.
Impressive Thorn had lived up to his name, a thorn in the Stags' hide for almost six hours as he frustrated them with late runs. But Patel would finally have the last say as he had Parkes caught by captain Greg Hay on 115, as the Volts' innings ended at exactly 300 all out on the stroke of lunch.
The Stags would need 188 runs in two sessions to get maximum points, and they did it with five wickets in hand, in the last session.
Now the Plunket Shield race was between them and Canterbury, with the latter able to do nothing but sit and watch when the Stags play again in Nelson, against the Aces, in the season decider at Saxton Oval on 1-4 April.