A star turn from part-timer Henry Cooper | PHOTOSPORT

Is this the season? ND reclaims lead with nailbiter win



ANOTHER week, another dramatic round of the Plunket Shield championship!

Defending Plunket Shield champions the Central Stags won't be sending the Auckland Aces any Christmas cards this year after the Aces failed to see out the last two balls of their 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 Wellington Firebirds, with the Stags a good sniff in third, with two rounds to go at the business end of the national first-class cricket championship.

After a day-long fightback against their Hamilton-based hosts, the Aces came within mere minutes of salvaging an unlikely draw - after having needed to reach a lofty 423 in their last innings for a win, or hold onto seven wickets for a draw on the final day.

The odds were in Northern's favour but, by the start of the last over this evening, the Aces were 360/9, and would deny Northern 12 outright points if they could hold onto that last wicket as the clock wound down.

Instead, golden arm spinner Henry Cooper snaffled his third wicket with just two balls left in the match to ensure ND took 17 of the maximum possible 20 points on offer.

The last-minute victory catapulted an overjoyed Northern to a 13-point lead over former leaders the Wellington Firebirds – with the Firebirds meanwhile having denied the Central Stags a 20-pointer in Palmerston North.

That match also went down to the wire, as the Firebirds held onto their last wicket long enough to salvage a draw from a defensive position.

The Stags had begun the last day looking for an innings victory, but the wet weather that had delayed the start of the game returned to truncate the first session.

It proved an unlucky break for Central who had to toil hard to take wickets on a cold and windy afternoon, as the Wellingtonians shut up shop for the day, firmly on the back foot in the match after the Stags had slathered on their fourth highest ever first-class total over the previous two days of 572/9 declared.

Resuming at 60/3, Firebirds nightwatchman Iain McPeake was a key figure for his side with a near-career best effort of 44, spending three and a half hours at the crease.

The Stags had lost a key paceman from their attack on the first day of the game with an injury to Ray Toole, but the remaining attack rallied - Ajaz Patel delivering a marathon 49 overs for just one wicket in the last innings, in his 100th first-class game, and paceman Blair Tickner bowling 28 overs for his three wickets.

A serious shift in vain from Ajaz Patel | MBUTCHER

POINTS SNAPSHOT after 6 of 8 rounds

(Maximum points available per match: 20)

Northern Districts 80

Wellington Firebirds 67

Central Stags 58

Canterbury 48

Otago Volts 43

Auckland Aces 29

In Hamilton, opener Will O'Donnell's 93 in combination with veteran George Worker's 72 had given the Aces an unlikely chance of victory – which would have been their first in this format all season, heading into the last games of the summer.

Will O'Donnell worked hard for the Aces | PHOTOSPORT

The pair piled on 163 for the fourth wicket to douse Northern's hopes of a quick victory, but ND's spinners Joe Walker (1/81), brother Freddy Walker (1/56) and Cooper (3/38) ultimately prevailed to finish off the job.

Northern hasn't lifted the Plunket Shield since way back in 2009/10, and now stands a good chance of breaking that long-running title drought - if they can back up against fourth-placed Canterbury in the next (penultimate) round, away at Canterbury's country fortress of Rangiora.

The Auckland Aces meanwhile become the first team to formally drop out of the running for the first-class title, consoling themselves this season with the Dream11 Super Smash men's trophy and a runner-up finish in the one-day Ford Trophy.




10.30am, Saturday 16 to Tuesday 19 March, 2024

FREE admission

  • Central Stags v Auckland Aces at McLean Park, Napier
  • Canterbury v Northern Districts at Mainpower Oval, Rangiora
  • Wellington Firebirds v Otago Volts at Cello Basin Reserve, Wellington







Asahi CCC Dream11 Dulux Ford Gillette GJ Gardner KFC Life Direct Pals Powerade Spark Spark