Heading to a new home this week - but whose? | PHOTOSPORT

High stakes for Plunket Shield 'Final'

Early next week, either Northern Districts or the Wellington Firebirds will be crowned as the Plunket Shield champions for 2023/24, and they're playing each other from this Sunday for that privilege. Check out the tale of the tape.

The two top teams on the national first-class table are the only teams left in the hunt for one of New Zealand's oldest sporting trophies and, as luck would have it, they are scheduled to meet each other in the season's final round of four-day matches that begins this Sunday in Hamilton, Napier and Auckland: effectively, it's a final.

Should Northern win the Plunket Shield, it will end a considerable drought.

Northern has been victorious in the T20 format four times since a breakthrough title in that format in 2014, yet have lifted neither the Plunket Shield nor The Ford Trophy since 2012 and 2010, respectively (and in 2009/10, they had done the first-class/one-day double).

Recent Champions

2022/23  Central Stags
2021/22  Auckland Aces
2020/21  Canterbury
2019/20  Wellington Firebirds
2018/19  Central Stags
2017/18  Central Stags
2016/17  Canterbury
2015/16  Auckland Aces
2014/15  Canterbury 
2013/14  Canterbury
2012/13  Central Stags
2011/12  Northern Districts
2010/11  Canterbury 
2009/10  Northern Districts

A Northern triumph this summer would also mean five different Major Associations would end up holding the annual trophies.

The Auckland Aces won the men's Dream11 Super Smash. Wellington Blaze won the women's Dream11 Super Smash. Canterbury won The Ford Trophy, and the Otago Sparks, the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield in the one-day arena.

That's an uncommon occurrence - and one the Wellington Firebirds will be happy to prevent.

On top: the Wellington Firebirds | PHOTOSPORT

The Firebirds will head in to the last round as only undefeated team after seven matches, while ND suffered their only loss in the latest round, away to Canterbury in Rangiora.

The Plunket Shield lead has see-sawed between the Firebirds and Northern Districts across the last few rounds, and the Firebirds (on 87 points) will be heading to the decisive game in Hamilton holding a narrow, four-point advantage over Northern (83 points) - with a maximum of 20 points on the table should either side win outright.

Both teams can earn up to eight first innings points (included in the 20 possible points, alongside 12 for an outright win). 

What happens if the two teams hold each other to a draw, and also, finish equal on points? In that case, they would also be equal on the first countback: number of wins, with both teams having won four of their seven rounds to date.

Hamilton's hungry hosts, Northern Districts | PHOTOSPORT

So that scenario would see the Plunket Shield decided on the next separator: net runs per wicket over the whole competition, with ND currently ahead of the Firebirds on this score.

The beautiful silver and wood Plunket Shield has been on the line since the 1906/07 season, and is regarded by players as the hardest trophy to win. 

The Firebirds last achieved it in 2019/20, a summer in which the last two scheduled rounds were called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Firebirds had been sitting on a 26-point lead at the top of the table at that time and, with four wins from six of the eight scheduled games, were awarded the trophy.

The other two matches coming up this Sunday - ousted champions the Central Stags hosting the unpredictable Otago Volts at McLean Park, and the cellar-dwelling Auckland Aces against Canterbury, are dead rubbers.

So all eyes will be on Seddon Park where captains Jeet Raval and Tom Blundell will meet for the toss at 10am, assuming compliant weather in the last throes of the 2023/24 NZC Domestic season.

First ball is at 10.30am. All matches are free admission and livescored with video highlights at www.nzc.nz and on the NZC app, with free livestreams at NZC YouTube.

2023/24 SEASON

• WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS - road to the 'Final' (round eight of eight)
Early season rounds (pre Christmas)
Round 1 - beat Canterbury by 129 runs in Wellington
Round 2 - beat Central Stags by 172 runs in Nelson
Round 3 - drew with ND in Wellington. W 270 & 224/9 declared, ND 191 & 248/4 (67 overs)
Round 4 - drew with Auckland Aces in Auckland
Late season rounds
Round 5 - beat Canterbury by 5 wickets in Rangiora after Canterbury had scored 526 in 1st innings, Nathan Smith 6/36
Round 6 - drew with Central Stags in Palmerston North. Wellington 295 & 290/9 (118), Central Stags 572/9 dec
Round 7 - beat Otago Volts by an innings & 42 runs in Wellington. Michael Bracewell career best 8/41
• NORTHERN DISTRICTS - road to the 'Final' (round eight of eight)
Early season rounds (pre Christmas)
Round 1 - beat Otago Volts by an innings & 32 runs in Hamilton. Scott Kuggeleijn 9/84 for match
Round 2 - beat Auckland Aces by 9 wickets in Auckland, Kristian Clarke 6/45, Matt Fisher 6/45
Round 3 - drew with Wellington in Wellington. W 270 & 224/9 declared, ND 191 & 248/4 (67 overs)
Round 4 - beat Otago Volts by 34 runs in Dunedin
Late season rounds
Round 5 - Drew with Central Stags in Mt Maunganui. Stags 427 & 117/2, ND 331, Bharat Popli 111
Round 6 - Beat Auckland Aces by 63 runs in last over in Hamilton, ND 247 & 334/9 dec, Aces 158 & 360, Joe Carter 124, Brett Hampton maiden 100 not out
Round 7 - Lost to Canterbury by 5 wickets in Rangiora, Scott Kuggeleijn 6/79






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