Umpire Kattan Jagannathan made his first-class debut | all images: Photosport

Plunket Shield 50 per cent loaded

Halfway into the first-class championship and it's Canterbury on top, the only unbeaten side after the first four rounds.

Regular champions over recent years, the red and blacks have been consistent performers and hold a narrow, six-point lead over the Central Stags who are just one point ahead of the Firebirds to form a tight top three.

For the chasing bunch, there's still plenty of time to catch up, but they will have to wait until late February 2023 while the red-ball championship pauses for white-ball fun throughout the summer holiday season.

GREEDY BOWLERS

Tradtionally, early season four-dayers are a seamer's delight and, in the third and fourth rounds, more players joined in the fun in the wickets column. Here's a few highlights.

Jacob Duffy had claimed two bags from the first two rounds for the Volts, and now Wellington Firebird Logan van Beek saw that and raised it with two in the same match - against the Central Stags on a juicy Fitzherbert Park deck.

Logan van Beek | MBUTCHER

Van Beek was playing his first match of the season for the Firebirds after he returned from representing The Netherlands at the T20 World Cup, and he hit his straps in his favourite format immediately with a bag in each innings for a career-best match analysis of 11/153 - unsurprisingly the best by anyone of the summer so far.

His brilliance included a delicious delivery to dismiss another form allrounder in Doug Bracewell, and helped hand the Stags their first loss of the current season.

Liam Dudding | MBUTCHER

Earlier in the match, tall, lean Stags seamer Liam Dudding had celebrated his maiden first-wicket bag, perhaps demonstrating the benefits of the contracting system given it was his first match as a contracted pro, paid to train throughout the contractual period.

He wasn't the only one around the traps in that round with a maiden bag. Auckland Aces captain Robbie O'Donnell proved a revelation with the ball and his Kiwi old-school dibbly dobbly pace.

PHOTOSPORT

O'Donnell had headed into the big fourth away round match against Canterbury with just nine wickets from 66 matches so it was a turn-up when he landed his maiden five-wicket bag against the top side in the country: 5-47 at Hagley Oval.

Not only that, but the joint 2022 men's Domestic Player of the Year scored a century in the match, making him just the seventh Aucklander in more than a century of first-class cricket to score a hundred and take a bag in the same match.

Van Beek will have known exactly what that felt like, as he did the same for Canterbury - at the same ground - back in his early years on the scene.

PHOTOSPORT

Overall, Cantabrian Matt Henry moved up a notch from the first two rounds to lead the wicket-taking table at the halfway mark, overtaking Duffy. When we say Canterbury is consistent, Henry is a big part of the reason, enjoying the movement in the air at this time of year and he finally got his well deserved first bag of the summer.

TOP WICKET-TAKERS

1. Matt Henry (Canterbury): 13 wickets, 1 x bag at 11.69

2. Jacob Duffy (Otago Volts): 22 wickets, 2 x bags, at 21.36 average

3. Doug Bracewell (Central Stags): 20 wickets, 1 x bag, at 17.55

4. Michael Snedden (Wellington Firebirds): 17 wickets at 17.41

5. Iain McPeake (Wellington Firebirds): 16 wickets, 1 x bag, at 22.81

6. Michael Rippon (Otago Volts): 15 wickets at 28.13

7. Will Somerville Auckland Aces): 10 wickets, 1 x bag, at 25.14

8. Travis Muller (Otago Volts): 14 wickets at 29.00

BAT KING COLE

There is shock, although not necessarily horror, as someone who isn't named Tom sits at the top of the Plunket Shield runs ladder.

Canterbury captain Cole McConchie carded the highest individual score of the season with a magnificent career-best 214 against the Otago Volts in Round Three at Hagley Oval, and now McConchie has a nice lead in this department with 452 runs at a sweet 90.40 average.

In fact, he has been the big mover in the rounds three and four, having climbed from outside the top six to the top of the run-scoring charts, while the early tearaway  Tom Latham slowed down his early pace.

McConchie followed up the special double ton with 130 in the very next round and continues to remind New Zealand selectors of his presence.

The Toms were watching, and two of the three Toms have two centuries this season, now. Tom Blundell's knock against the Stags in Palmy emulated Latham's twin tons in the first two rounds.

Tom Bruce meanwhile is the Tom with the most overall runs. He sits at third spot in the ladder. Astoundingly, Bruce has averaged 115.13 in the 2022 Plunket Shield calendar year for the Stags. He averaged 143.00 for last season's competition, so he needs to take a hard look.

Boding well for the BLACKCAPS, Latham has had a prolific start to 2022/23 with 361 runs averaging over 90, just a smidgen behind Tom Bruce's haul. Northern Districts top order man Bharat Popli - one of the few Plunket Shield batsmen in recent years to have scored more than 10,000 runs in a summer, which is an even harder challenge now that there are only eight rounds - has also been prolific.

PHOTOSPORT

Besides Blundell, Latham and McConchie with their twin tons, George Worker, Will Young, Tom Bruce, Bharat Popli, Henry Cooper, Brad Schmulian, Rachin Ravindra, Jeet Raval, Chad Bowes, Nick Kelly and the aforementioned O'Donnell have all put a hundred on the tins in the first half of the championship.

PHOTOSPORT

Central Stags first drop Schmulian's unbeaten double century in the third round in Nelson was the second of double ton of his career, which is hard to forget since his first was the New Zealand record and first double century for a first-class debut. That effort was also against Northern Districts, so they will have had enough of him by now.

TOP RUN-SCORERS

1. Cole McConchie (Canterbury): 452 runs, 2 x 100, 1 x 50 at 90.40 average

2. Bharat Popli (Northern Districts): 395 runs, 1 x 100, 3 x 50 at 56.42

3. Tom Bruce (Central Stags): 390 runs, 1 x 100, 3 x 50, at 52.48

4. Tom Blundell (Wellington Firebirds: 196 runs, 1 x 100, 1 x 50 at 49.00

5. Tom Latham (Canterbury): 361 runs, 2 x 100, at 90.25

6. Henry Cooper (Northern Districts): 332 runs, 1 x 100, 2 x 50 at 41.50

7. Brad Schmulian (Central Stags): 324 runs, 1 x 100, 1 x 50 at 54.00

5. Rachin Ravindra (Wellington Firebirds): 272 runs, 1 x 100 at 34.00

6. Jeet Raval (Northern Districts): 264 runs, 1 x 100, 1 x 50 at 37.71

TURN THE TABLES?

Halfway into the 2022/23 first-class championship, only one team remains unbeaten, being leaders Canterbury. The Volts and the Stags both took their first hit in the second quarter.

The Volts dropped out of the leading bunch on the table, while Canterbury, the Stags and Firebirds remained steady. The defending champions, the Auckland Aces, meanwhile got lift-off from the bottom of the ladder, but are only one point ahead of the Volts who now dwell in the cellar.

The business end of the Plunket Shield resumes in late February and it's still anyone's race.

With Thanks To

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