Four days to find the champion begins today

Nervous wait for Canterbury as nemesis Stags hunt Shield

Only two teams remain in the hunt to win the 2022/23 New Zealand Plunket Shield first-class championship - and only one of them is playing in the final game of the season, scheduled to start today, free admission at Nelson's Saxton Oval.

Canterbury finished their season on top of the Plunket Shield ladder, but must nervously wait to see the outcome of the Central Stags versus Auckland Aces match over the next four days to find out whether or not they are the national first-class champions.

One of these men will lift the Plunket Shield this week | PHOTOSPORT

Frustration has been the name of the game this season for Canterbury. Last week, they lost The Ford Trophy Grand Final in Napier to the Stags, after earlier losing the Dream11 Super Smash T20 final to Northern Brave.

And, Canterbury would already have had the Plunket Shield in their grasp had their nemesis the Stags not also beaten them in their Plunket Shield showdown in Rangiora two weeks ago - when one-man wrecking machine Josh Clarkson scored his maiden first-class century; helped his side quickly roll Canterbury in the second innings; then brought home the Stags' win with an aggressive unbeaten 44*.

The man in form, Josh Clarkson | MBUTCHER

The Nelson College old boy was also the chief architect of Canterbury's Ford Trophy demise, blasting a career-best 111 not out to bring home the one-day title for the Stags last Tuesday, while in the Plunket Shield when they met in the oprning round at the start of the season, the Stags held Canterbury to a tight draw - another result in the nursery ground of Test cricket that has ultimately left Canterbury sitting on their hands and hoping the Auckland Aces have a blinder.

Aces are out of the race already, while the Stags need an outright win (worth 12 points) as well as two of the eight available first innings bonus points from their cyclone-rescheduled home fixture in Nelson, 1-4 April 2023, to lift the coveted antique trophy that dates back to 1907.

Both teams in Nelson are missing several regular performers due to the concurrent New Zealand A series against Australia A in Lincoln.


Auckland's Martin Guptill has stepped in for a rare red-ball appearance, while Ben Horne gets another opportunity to captain the team in the absence of regular skipper Robbie O'Donnell (NZ A). The Aces will also be fired up to give retiring Test BLACKCAP Will Sommerville the perfect farewell.

The Stags have lost their most prolific batsman and top fieldsman this summer, New Zealand A captain Tom Bruce who finished his campaign with 705 runs, behind only ND's Bharat Popli and Canterbury captain Cole McConchie; as well as a chart-topping 15 catches.

They have named a potential first-class debutant in leg-spinning allrounder Brett Johnson in their squad for the big match.

Stags double centurion Brad Schmulian | PHOTOSPORT

They still have their top wicket-taker Ray Toole (with 24 wickets, the Manawatu paceman is behind only Otago Volt Jacob Duffy's 32 nationally) and the consistent Brad Schmulian who is in the top five runscorers nationally, and scored 55 and an unbeaten 200* at the same ground, Saxton Oval against ND in November.

Canterbury captain Cole McConchie admitted he felt uneasy with his team's destiny of his hands.

"The Stags are playing some really good cricket at the moment so I'm sure they'll give it a good crack in the last round in Nelson.

"We'll be hopeful that our mates from Auckland get up for the game and put in a good performance, but what will be, will be.

"I'm proud of Canterbury's performance this season, and of our whole squad. We've had to call on a lot of players, and to make a couple of [white-ball] Finals, and still be a chance of winning the Plunket Shield is pretty exciting."

Play in Nelson is scheduled to start at the normal time of 10.30am, with the toss at 10am - weather permitting, with some rain forecast for the first two days. Play on Days Two, Three and Four has a scheduled start time of 10am, following the end of daylight saving tonight.

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