We are into the final month of the 2017/18 New Zealand first-class season and, with just four rounds remaining, the money is on a fresh Plunket Shield champion as defending title-holder Canterbury continues to languish at the rear of the field.
Competition Winner: Central Stags
|1 –||Central Stags||10||6||0||4||0||0||0||0||27||32||131||11.601|
|2 –||Wellington Firebirds||10||6||3||1||0||0||0||0||16||39||127||6.127|
|3 –||Auckland Aces||10||5||3||2||0||0||0||0||14||31||105||-9.312|
The just-completed Round Six marked the resumption of red-ball styles for the country’s leading cricketers, renewed energy and fresh slates for all after the conclusion of the domestic white-ball summer — but the transition proved to be smooth, with no significant movement on the pre-Christmas points table and top trio the Wellington Firebirds, Central Stags and Auckland Aces all winning outright to hold their position.
The Stags will be slightly annoyed to have missed out on first-innings batting points in Napier, where local conditions were a touch kinder to the bowlers than batsmen — for once. The sun rarely peeped out from overcast and humid skies until the last innings.
However, after their opening batsman Greg Hay took charge of the last couple of days with his patient century — the only first-class hundred of the round, Hay’s 10th — the Stags added 12 outright points to their four first-innings bowling bonuses, keeping them to a steady three-points behind leaders the Wellington Firebirds.
The Canterbury-Firebirds clash at Hagley Oval — completed inside a day and half — was the quickest result anyone around the traps can recall having been involved in. Remarkably, the Firebirds will head to Round Seven now having wrapped up a victory inside two days twice this season, with only one of their matches having gone into the fourth day:
ROUND ONE — won by an innings and 205 runs at the Basin inside three days
ROUND TWO — won by an innings and 43 runs at the Basin inside three days
ROUND THREE — won by 82 runs at Seddon Park on the fourth morning
ROUND FOUR — won by five wickets at the Basin inside two days
ROUND FIVE — lost by seven wickets at Saxton Oval inside three days
ROUND SIX — won by 10 wickets at Hagley Oval inside two days
The season’s top wicket-taker with 30 victims from six rounds, Firebird Logan van Beek’s five-wicket bag was one of nine influential five-wicket hauls this round — only one of which was by a spinner. It was also a rare instance of two bowlers taking five-wicket bags in the same innings, as teammate Iain McPeake claimed 10 in a match for the first time.
Five-wicket bags in ROUND SIX
Logan van Beek 5-22 (Wellington Firebirds)
Iain McPeake 5-30 and 5-21 (Wellington Firebirds)
Jimmy Baker 6-72 (Northern Districts)
Kyle Jamieson 5-61 (Canterbury)
Matt McEwan 5-60 (Auckland Aces)
Seth Rance 5-58 (Central Stags)
Neil Wagner 5-45 (Otago Volts)
Ajaz Patel 5-44 (Central Stags)
And of course, there was not one, but two hat-tricks!
Rance and Baker also put themselves on hat-tricks in the course of their five-wicket-bags — and, had Rance succeeded in dismissing Wagner first ball, we would be talking hat-tricks in all three matches in the round. As it was, two within one round — let alone two in the same hour — was extraordinary on its own.
Off-spinner Ajaz Patel has been the top wicket-taker for the past two seasons and, just five wickets behind van Beek, is now back in with a shout of making it three on the bounce.
His team-mate, red-ball specialist opener Greg Hay, is meanwhile top of the runs after his second century this summer and a half century or better in every game this season. Hay has been productive at the top through solid occupation, his run of scores 1 & 76, 0 & 52, 140, 57 & 14, 0 & 85*, and 26 & 134*.
The next round begins the Friday (with the Volts-Firebirds clash starting a day later in Dunedin) and Canterbury will need a spectacular change in fortunes to revive their hopes of contending for the title again. Were they to claim three maximum-point outrights on the bounce from here, they would likely still be behind the Firebirds, given the bonus points on offer to each team in every first innings.
The Stags meanwhile remain the only undefeated side heading into the last four rounds, despite sitting in second spot on the table. It was the Stags who handed front-runners the Firebirds their solitary loss and they will be keen to keep the Auckland Aces at bay as they head to the Auckland fortress of Eden Park Outer Oval.
Coming off a solid win against ND, the Aces can go a long way to closing the gap on the second-placed Stags with another positive result in the forthcoming round.
Friday 9 March to Monday 12 March, 10.30am
Auckland Aces v Central Stags at Eden Park Outer Oval, Auckland
Northern Districts v Canterbury at Cobham Oval, Whangarei
Saturday 10 March to Tuesday 13 March, 10.30am
Otago Volts v Wellington Firebirds at University of Otago Oval, Dunedin
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