22 March 2021
Canterbury wins Plunket Shield
Central Stags captain Greg Hay and Dane Cleaver had got the third morning off to a positive start for the side – both players reaching half centuries in a much needed 89-run stand for the fifth wicket.
But with two quick strikes before lunch – Hay, and then another big wicket in new man Doug Bracewell, Canterbury quickly wrested back control as the morning clouded over for the visitors.
The Stags dismissed for just 170 second time around, spinner Theo van Woerkom had his best first-class haul with 4-26 with Fraser Sheat had 4-28 off just 15 overs, leaving the home batsmen a straightforward chase of 39 runs to win the match with a day and a half to spare.
The emphatic victory pushed Canterbury 47 points ahead of nearest challenger Northern Districts on the points table, and when ND’s match with the Wellington Firebirds at Bay Oval petered out in a draw, Canterbury’s dressing room erupted in celebration as both hands on the Plunket Shield were confirmed – the unbeaten side with five wins and a draw claiming the championship with two matches still in hand.
The result had cost the Stags their own chance of winning the coveted trophy, while the unbeaten Auckland Aces had once again been done in by wet weather in Invercargill in their luckless season.
Holding the advantage, Canterbury was aiming to build a big first-innings lead with the bat on the second day, but ultimately did more work to advance their position with the ball.
Captain Cole McConchie and wicketkeeper-batsman Cam Fletcher brought up a century stand for the fifth wicket just before lunch, Canterbury heading to the meal break at 183/4, with a 34-run first innings lead.
But lunch brought a wicket. Fletcher had been on the cusp of joning his partner with a half century, resuming the second session on 48* and soon had his half ton.
But the key stand was quickly broken by Blair Tickner as McConchie pulled wildly on 75, only to feather a nick to the keeper.
Fletcher marched on to a top score of 78, but his dismissal led to the unravelling of the Canterbury tail inside the middle session.
Josh Clarkson took two in the space of three balls with Fletcher and Sean Davey, the Stags’ tails up as they sniffed a chance to haul themselves back into the contest by restricting the Canterbury damage.
After having Theo van Woerkom caught, Bair Tickner came back with the new ball – taking the final three wickets with back to back wicket maidens.
Canterbury’s first-innings lead had been held to 123, while the Stags had netted the maximum bowling bonuses. However, the visitors again made a poor start with the bat in their second innings, quickly finding themselves four down against Canterbury’s pace attack, Fraser Sheat picking up George Worker, Ben Smith and Tom Bruce for single digit scores.
The Stags will resume day three up against it at 69/4, captain Greg Hay having gritted his teeth and got through to 31* by stumps with Dane Cleaver 22* and the visitors needing to shore up their position, still trailing overall by 63 with just six wickets left in the bank.
Heading into the sixth of eight rounds with a hefty 32-point lead over chaser Northern Districts, and 37 points above the Stags, Canterbury has a chance to put one hand on the Shield if they can dominate this key fixture.
Since the move from 10 rounds to eight created an uneven round robin several seasons ago, not every team plays each other home and away in the championship – and two sides didn’t end up playing each other at all in last summer’s COVID-shortened competition.
That’s added spice to the business end of the Plunket Shield with Canterbury drawn to meet the Stags twice in the last three matches – meaning the other hopeful teams were looking to the Stags to tug the reins on Canterbury’s runaway streak at the top of the table, while the midtable Stags themselves were looking to march on up the table at their hosts’ expense.
Stags captain Greg Hay won the toss and elected to bat with four changes to his XI, having lost the services of Ross Taylor and Will Young to the BLACKCAPS, Seth Rance to injury, and Ajaz Patel to impending paternity, bringing another economical Hawke’s Bay off-spinner in Jayden Lennox in for his first-class debut.
Doug Bracewell’s return from injury provided a timely balance, but he was left with a big job to do on the first afternoon with the Stags in tatters at 98/7 in just the 46th over of the day.
Canterbury, too, had lost a suite of players to the BLACKCAPS ODI side, but the pace attack of Ed Nuttall, Will Williams, Sean Davey and Fraser Sheat no doubt were left delighted at their captain having lost the toss after collectively ripping through the Central top and middle order on a tricky surface.
Nuttall landed the opening blow with George Worker caught in the first over of the innings, picking up another key wicket 23 overs when he came back for fellow Stags opening batsman Greg Hay, who had grafted his way to 38 before he was caught behind after a 49-run stand with Schmulian.
That threatened to be the top score for the Stags as the wickets kept tumbling – the recalled Ben Smith, Tom Bruce and Josh Clarkson all sent back for single-figure scores.
The man of the mercurial technique, Brad Schmulian batted for more than two hours for his 17 before he became Williams’s second victim, caught down the leg-side by the sharp-eyed Canterbury keeper Cam Fletcher.
A leg bye eventually pushed the Stags past the 100 mark with another determined batting effort required from Blair Tickner as he partnered Bracewell for the eighth.
By tea, Lennox had found his first two runs in first-class cricket, Bracewell providing a much needed 35* by the break with the Stags 128/3.
Bracewell went on to post a much needed half century for his side, a gritty 52 off 119 balls, Lennox surviving for 45 deliveries before Sean Davey wrapped up the innings with both their wickets to land a maiden first-class five-wicket bag – and impressive 5-19 off 16.1 overs to go with his stunning Ford Trophy bag earlier in the season.
Dismissed for 149 in 75.1 overs, the Stags had failed to take a batting bonus while Canterbury had taken the full set of four for their work with the ball, but by stumps the hosts were already three down in reply with a brilliant side-on throw from Ben Smith running out Chad Bowes on 46 off the last delivery of the day.
Canterbury will resume day two at 61/3, trailing by just 88 in the first innings.