AUCKLAND ACES beat NORTHERN DISTRICTS by 71 runs
Kennards Hire Community Oval, Auckland
21-24 March, 2023
First innings points:
Auckland Aces: 4 batting (maximum achieved), 1 bowling
Northern Districts: 2 bowling (completed), 1 batting
Total points this round: Auckland Aces 17, Northern Districts 3
George Worker: 11th first-class century (second for Auckland Aces)
Simon Keene: maiden first-class century
Katene Clarke: maiden first-class wicket
Tim Pringle: career best bowling
Matt Gibson: first-class debut (as substitute for Ben Lister who was called into the BLACKCAPS squad mid-match)
Danru Ferns: career best bowling
Bharat Popli: 7th first-class century
Danru Ferns: maiden five-wicket bag
Both teams entered into this round still in contention for the 2022/23 Plunket Shield, but defending champion the Auckland Aces were only just hanging on, despite having a match in hand (the rescheduled fifth round game against the Stags in Nelson next week).
They would not survive the first innings, while Northern needed an outright to strengthen their own position - having headed into this round very much in contention, just four points behind Canterbury on the leaderboad.
Fresh off back-to-back outrights, ND captain Jeet Raval won the toss in Auckland and elected to bowl. By lunch, the Aces were 92/4 with the seamers enjoying their work, and Scott Kuggeleijn having dismissed both the O'Donnell brothers - opener Will for no score, and captain Robbie for 58.
A blast of rain and wind had then, heavy rain ruling out any further action for the day.
After a rough start on the previous morning, the Auckland Aces produced a much stronger performance on the second day with both veteran left-hander - the former opener continuing to luxuriate at five in the order - and rising allrounder Simon Keene taking unbeaten centuries.
Keene's was a maiden effort, finishing 100 not out when his captained declared at 350/5 in the last session, straight after the team had collected the fourth and last batting bonus point.
No time to waste.
Worker has cashed in for his 11th first-class ton, and second for the Aces, after previous incarnations for both the Central Stags and Canterbury.
His unbeaten 114* included a dozen boundaries and a six, while Keene struck two sixes and 10 fours in the haste to get points on the board in a shortened game.
By the end of the day, Northern was 84/3 in reply, still trailing by 286 after a wicket apiece for Keene, Adi Ashok and Sean Solia.
Northern Districts had to fight their way back with the bat now, and Bharat Popli and Katene Clarke did just that, both reaching half centuries before lunch, Clarke as usual getting there in a hurry.
Raval then gambled on a bold declaration at 214/4 (137 runs behind on the first innings),putting the Aces back in for the middle session. The 12 outright points were the ones ND wanted.
The hosts then galloped to a second innings 141/3 by tea, and declared before stumps at 278/8.
Northern would be left with a chase of 416 to win. in just over three sessions
The Aces meanwhile had six overs left in the day with which to have another crack at the Northern top order, but the visitors negotiated it unscathed to be 27 without loss by stumps, with 389 further runs needed for victory.
Northern Districts headed into the final day of their season with a clear-cut equation: score 389 runs.
With all 10 wickets in hand, that meant a required rate of just over four per over in the regulation day, par for the course at one of the smaller venues in the country.
But it would be by no means easy, even with a good start. Captain Raval and Henry Cooper certainly got that. They put on 125 runs together for the first wicket, Raval squeezing up a catch off Keene to Worker right on the lunch bell, stopped on 63.
Cooper carried on with Bharat Popli and ND was looking comfortable at 193/1, until Danru Ferns suddenlt went bang-bang to remove Cooper caught and bowled on 74 and then Tim Seifert for no score next ball, with ND still requiring 223.
This was a match that would be fought hard to the end, the last of the trio of first-class matches to finish. With big wins to both Canterbury and the Central Stags in the meantime on this brutal afternoon, even an outright to ND would not have been enough to keep their title hopes alive any more..
Popli went on to get a red-inker century to finish his season on a strong note, while the Auckland Aces ripped through the remaining wickets to take the win and get that winning feeeling back ahead of their last match in Nelson, on 1-4 April against the Stags.
Danru Ferns celebrated his maiden first-class bag with a haul of 5/79.
The race for the title was now between Canterbury and the Central Stags, and Canterbury will be hoping the Aces have a blinder.