There was plenty to celebrate in the 2022/23 first-class season with a hotly contested Plunket Shield championship producing memorable matches and outstanding individual feats across all six teams
Northern Districts top order man Bharat Popli is one of the few cricketers in New Zealand to have scored more than 10,000 runs in a first-class season. He did it back in 2015/16, when there were still 10 rounds in a droughty Plunket Shield summer, so to score 819 runs from a season that now comprises just eight matches is arguably right up there.
All images unless otherwise stated: PHOTOSPORT
When Popli gets in and gets going, the right-hander can be very hard to dislodge and, in combination with another seasoned accumulator at the top, Jeet Raval (below) that hard-core experience at the top was one of ND’s strengths as he made the most of an extended run in the playing XI.
Popli scored his 819 runs from 16 innings, averaging 63.00: his second most productive season since his 2013/14 debut. He finished 81 runs clear of Canterbury captain Cole McConchie (738 runs from 13 innings at 56.76) and Central Stag Tom Bruce (705 runs from 12 innings at a 70.50 average, below).
Quirky fact: Popli has never played the shortest format for his team.
Popli also takes home the silver salver for most centuries in the summer, with three hundreds as well as five half centuries, a great return from his 16 starts. He hit 114 boundaries - more than any other player - in 2022/23.
He headed off a stellar roll call of players to have twice tonned up in the campaign: Tom Latham (below), Cole McConchie and Chad Bowes for Canterbury; Brad Schmulian and Tom Bruce for the Central Stags; George Worker for the Auckland Aces; Tom Blundell, Rachin Ravindra (below) and Nick Kelly for the Wellington Firebirds; and Popli’s wingman Raval for ND.
TON UP! THE MAIDEN CENTURIES
There was a special raise of the bat this season for…
Wellington Firebird Gareth Severin (196 v ND at Seddon Park)
Otago Volt Dean Foxcroft (159 v Wellington Firebirds at University of Otago Oval)
Wellington Firebird Muhammad Abbas (130 v Auckland Aces at Colin Maiden Park)
Northern Districts’ Katene Clarke (129 v Wellington Firebirds at Seddon Park)
Central Stag Josh Clarkson (119 v Canterbury at Rangiora)
Otago Volt Thorn Parkes (above, 115 v the Stags in Palmerston North)
Canterbury’s Rhys Mariu (112 v Wellington Firebirds at Rangiora)
Wellington Firebird Callum McLachlan (100 v Canterbury at Rangiora)
Auckland Ace Simon Keene (100 not out v ND at Kennards Hire Community Oval)
He only played three innings at the back end of his first contracted season, but young Auckland Ace Quinn Sunde got those quick hands moving with two unbeaten innings, including his first Plunket Shield half century, to roll up with a cheeky 110 average. Also turned heads smashing 91 in a non-first-class match for the NZXI against a full strength England!
Of players with more than three appearances this season, Tom Latham averaged 90.25 for Canterbury (four matches), Tom Bruce 70.50 for the Central Stags (seven matches), and Bharat Popli 63.00 while Cole McConchie, Simon Keene, Josh Clarkson, Muhammad Abbas and Rhys Mariu all averaged above 50, the latter pair in their debut season.
Two prolific players scored double centuries in the summer.
Canterbury captain McConchie reached his first double ton against the Otago Volts at Hagley Oval in November, reaching 214 before he was finally dismissed after almost seven hours at the crease.
Central Stag Schmulian also batted for almost seven hours for his unbeaten 200* against ND in Nelson in the same round. It was the second time Schmulian had scored a double hundred for the Stags, having hit 203 on first-class debut against the same team in 2017.
MAKING A STAND
The extraordinary last-day chase by the Central Stags at Mount Maunganui didn’t produce the win for the Stags, but it did produce the 2022/23 Plunket Shield’s biggest partnership.
Greg Hay (in his first Plunket Shield match of the season) and the man who had deputised for Hay whilst he recovered from a broken arm, Tom Bruce, scored big centuries together as they went after an unlikely 400+ run chase against ND.
They put on 270 for the fifth wicket which was a new record in Stags cricket for matches against ND, Hay reaching 150 before he was caught and bowled by Tim Pringle as he tried to escalate the strike, and Bruce going on to 161 before he became the last wicket at 427 - when the side was just 36 runs short of victory.
That 427 was the Stags’ third highest fourth innings total in their 73-year history. It was also the Stags’ first match in any format in a month after having been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, and they put the disappointment behind them to win their next three matches on the bounce and with it, the Plunket Shield title.
Auckland Aces Sean Solia (above) and Mark Chapman (249 for the second wicket against the Firebirds, a new Auckland all-time record) and Muhammad Abbas and Nick Kelly (221 for the fifth wicket in the same match at Colin Maiden Park) also celebrated double century stands, while McConchie and Mitch Hay almost got there with 193 for the fifth against the Volts at Hagley.
Each one of the aforementioned partnerships all occurred in the same round, Round Six in early March, after a return to hot, sunny conditions had batters everywhere smiling.
The usual suspects here - Tom Bruce (Central Stags) and Jeet Raval (ND) leading the way with 14 catches. Dale Phillips (Otago Volts) 13, and young Jacob Cumming (Otago Volts) putting his hand up with 12, and impressive close in.
Popli and Leo Carter also with a dozen grabs, and honourable mentions to Wellington Firebirds pair Tim Robinson and Luke Georgeson who both pouched four in an innings.
Influential Otago Volts paceman Jacob Duffy started the season with a hiss and a roar and a brace of bags, and finished it as the number one wicket-taker with 32 wickets from eight games.
Duffy just pipped Central Stag Ray Toole (31 wickets) who meanwhile finished his summer with a bang - in the form of a career best 7/57 to win the last match, and with it the Plunket Shield, in Nelson against the Aces.
Bowing out in the match was the season’s top spin bowler, the now retired Will Somerville who signed off with 26 wickets from the eight games in the campaign, with a best of 4/32 against Otago in his first game of the season for his last summer.
Duffy averaged 29.09 with a match haul of eight in his first round of the summer in Auckland, then nine for the match the following week against ND at the Mount.
Toole averaged a tidy 22.96 from his eight games. Of other players to have played all eight rounds, big young paceman Will O’Rourke impressed for Canterbury with 23 wickets, while making a big impact off just a few starts were his teammates Matt Henry (below) with 23 wickets from just three games, Sean Davey with 23 from just four games; and Stag Doug Bracewell also took 23 in five games - interrupted by a long awaited Test recall.
Duffy, Davey, Logan van Beek (Wellington Firebirds), Adithya Ashok (Aces) and Ajaz Patel (Stags) alll finished with two bags by their name for the Plunket Shield season. The most greedy awards therefore go to van Beek and Davey who also both took 11 wickets in a single match.
Davey has a history of making an explosive impact when called upon by Canterbury, whether in first-class or List A one-day cricket. He finished with a devastatingly superb haul of 11/66 against the Firebirds in Rangiora in March, with his returns of 7/25 and 4/41. In The Ford Trophy Grand Final later than month, the Stags were wisely cautious against him at the top of the innings before seeing him off and freeing their arms.
Van Beek’s memorable game was against the Stags in Palmerston North, one of the few times Central was beaten in 2022/23. He took 5/73 and 6/80 in the November encounter to help Wellington win by 68 runs, a match analysis for the allrounder of 11/153.
Davey’s 7/25 stood out like the proverbial in the stats columns and was one of three instances of a seven-wicket bag, along with Duffy’s and Toole’s aforementioned performances. Van Beek and Ajaz Patel (6/95 against the Volts in Palmerston North) took six-fors.
Always a special landmark for a bowler and this season saw a number of players cross the threshold:
Robbie O’Donnell (Auckland Aces) 5/47 v Canterbury at Hagley Oval
Scott Johnston (Northern Districts) 5/57 v Canterbury at Seddon Park
Mitch Santner (Northern Districts) 5/51 v Central Stags at Mount Maunganui
Kristian Clarke (Northern Districts) 5/62 v Wellington Firebirds at Seddon Park
Liam Dudding (Central Stags) 5/65 v Wellington Firebirds in Palmerston North
Brett Hampton (Northern Districts) 5/67 v Canterbury at Seddon Park
Matt Fisher (Northern Districts) 5/68 v Wellington Firebirds at the Cello Basin Reserve
Danru Ferns (Auckland Aces) 5/79 v Northern Districts at Kennards Hire Community Oval
Adithya Ashok (Auckland Aces) 5/106 v Central Stags at Kennards Hire Community Oval
MOST KEEPING DISMISSALS
Tied at the top, Central Stag Dane Cleaver and ND’s Tim Seifert both finished the Plunket Shield season with 26 dismissals - Cleaver with 23 catches and Seifert with 22, the balance in stumpings.
Auckland Ace Ben Horne was not far behind with 24, followed by Max Chu with 21 for the Volts, all from eight matches.
Sending a well done card to Chu whose six catches in an innings against the Stags in Palmerston North was not an Otago Volts record, owing to the career best feat of predecessor Derek de Boorder who set the local bar high at eight.
Tom Blundell took six in an innings at the Basin for the Firebirds at the start of the season against ND, and that equalled the Wellington record, while Cam Fletcher equalled the Canterbury record in Rangiora as Sean Davey routed the Firebirds. So hard luck there, Max Chu!
To end, a few quirks and special achievements from the Plunket Shield summer.
- Few people will forget the BLACKCAPS’ 1-run victory over England at the Mount in the summer’s Test programme, but it wasn’t the only unusually tight result. Northern Districts beat the Firebirds by just two runs in the humdinger in Hamilton, joining the list of the top five all-time tightest winnings margins in all NZ first-class cricket.
- When Jeet Raval, Bharat Popli and Mitch Santner all scored tons in the same innings against the Central Stags at the Mount in the big sixth-round clash, it was another relative rarity.
- The Wellington Firebirds’ match against Canterbury at the Basin in October saw almost all the wickets, 31 of them, fall as catches. The national record is 35 and few matches have seen as many.
- Logan van Beek’s bag in each innings in Palmerston North was the first time a bowler had taken a bag in both innings in the Plunket Shield since 2017/18 - when there were five instances, so quite the drought since then.
- Jeet Raval has now shared in 45 century stands in first-class cricket, which moves him ahead of Craig Cumming to fourth on the NZ all-time list. The record is 51 (Michael Papps).
- When the Central Stags beat Canterbury at Rangiora’s Mainpower Oval in March, it was the first time in 10 matches that Canterbury had been defeated at their country fortress. Prior to that game, the last time they had been beaten in Rangiora was in February 2015, when the Auckland Aces won by 10 wickets.
- The Rangiora win in a top of the table clash was a key victory for the Stags, and helping them considerably was Josh Clarkson who scored his maiden first-class century in the match: 119 off 146 balls.
- Better known for his big hitting in the white-ball arenas until this summer, Clarkson’s first-class strike rate of 82.24 was the highest in the Plunket Shield of 2022/23, and his 52.12 average from five innings was the second highest for the Stags (behind Bruce) and among the top 11 averages of the comp. He went close to a second ton in the final match in Nelson with a knock of 79 off just 67 balls to further illustrate his impact against the red ball can be just as entertaining as it is against the white Kookaburra.
THE POINTS OF IT ALL
This closely contested season went right down to the wire, with the Stags needing to win the last match of the season, in April in Nelson against the Aces - who had won the title the previous season.
All the other teams had finished for the summer, as the last match was technically a fifth-round game that was delayed, relocated and rescheduled to the end of the season due to Cyclone Gabrielle’s devastating impact on CD’s territory in February.
Until then, Canterbury had held the lead for most of the season, but had notably failed to beat the Stags in their two head-to-head clashes. It meant that their rivals now needed just 14 points from their last game - as the outright win they needed would see them finish with more wins than Canterbury overall, and that was the second countback separator after total points.
The Stags did exactly that, taking two first innings points before netting the 12 points for an outright to win the Plunket Shield for the 12th time in their history, and third time in the last six seasons.
1. Central Stags 101 (five wins)
2. Canterbury 101 (four wins)
3. Northern Districts 82 (three wins)
4. Auckland Aces 66 (two wins)
5. Wellington Firebirds 64 (two wins)
6. Otago Volts 53 (one win)