12 March 2019
Murdoch / Astle do the damage against Auckland Aces
Canterbury returned from Hagley Oval to Rangiora looking for three home wins on the bounce, against a strong pack of Auckland Aces, a side that was likewise fighting to keep their chances live heading into the last two rounds of the first-class summer.
The teams entered the round with the Aces just 12 points off the pace, and the Cantabrians just one point behind the Aces, in second and third on the table respectively. But both side were in for a frustrating start to what may well have been a tense first morning, in a match pregnant with anticipation. After the country had received a well overdue soaking the previous day, ground conditions meant no play in the first scheduled session, an early lunch and the first ball at 2.30pm.
Unsurprisingly Aces captain Robbie O’Donnell chose to bowl when the toss was eventually made. Chad Bowes weathered the first hour, but suddenly Jamie Brown (below) had one then two quick wickets.
Brown bounced out Bowes, caught by Ben Lister after his careful 25, then had fellow opening batman Jack Boyle playing on off his following over.
Boyle was frustrated after having dug in for 76 minutes for his nine, at his home ground in Canterbury country, only to leave at 38 for two. However, the hosts rallied with the bat, Stephen Murdoch leading the way from first drop to be unbeaten on 54* by stumps: his fourth half century on the bounce.
Canterbury was by then three down, however, having lost captain Cole McConchie on 35 after he was trapped by Matt McEwan at 99 for three to deliver the Aces their first point in the match. Leo Carter then survived the last 82 minutes before stumps and will resume on 15*, the hosts 143 for three at the end of an interesting first day’s play.
Wet weather prevented any play, Canterbury’s first innings paused on 143 for three heading into the third morning tomorrow.
Canterbury and the Aces are chasing an outright victory in Rangiora to keep their Plunket Shield campaign alive, after the Stags cleaned up another outright with a day to spare in Napier.
After another weather-delayed start for a damp outfield, the first session on day three in Rangiora had ended with Stephen Murdoch heading into lunch delicately poised on 98 not out.
With solid support from Cam Fletcher (42* at the break, below, file photo), the pair had put on 81 for the fifth wicket, but with Canterbury still laying down the first innings of the match, time was running out for valuable outright points without double declarations in the works.
The pair had guided the hosts to 245 for four after 90 overs, on the cusp of a second batting bonus point with Leo Carter the only wicket to fall in the session. In Napier, meanwhile the Stags-Northern Districts match was well advanced, with the Stags entering the final innings and seeking outright points.
Form horse Murdoch reached his three figures with the first stroke after lunch, a boundary tucked away off Sean Solia, then took care of the second batting bonus three balls later. It was the 13th first-class century of his career, but first in Canterbury colours, off 216 balls (14 x 4, 1 x 6).
Two of the three remaining live teams reported for duty on the final day of the penultimate round, the weather now playing ball in a match that would determine how much remained at stake in next week’s final round. The Auckland Aces resumed their big chase at 80 for two, overnight batsmen Sean Solia on 34* with Glenn Phillips 44* looking positive.
Phillips soon had his half century as the pair progressed to a century stand for the third wicket within the first hour, before Solia brought up his half century, off 101 balls, with his eighth boundary. By then Phillips was already three-quarters of the way to three figures, at 131 for two.
A huge moment loomed just around the corner, however, when Phillips appeared unlucky to be given on 76, Andrew Hazeldine having pleaded for a caught behind. O’Donnell arrived at the crease with a further 218 still to be found, seven in hand.
Meanwhile, Todd Astle had come into the attack and was about to deliver a couple of big blows, removing O’Donnell and Solia off consecutive overs. O’Donnell looked to step away only to have his castle blown apart, while Solia, on 71, squirted a catch to Murdoch at slip: 168 for five, all of a sudden, with Astle tearing it up as Canterbury looked to defend the remaining 183 runs.
It chastened the Aces’ mood heading in for lunch, 177 still needed with Astle sitting on 2-34.
Both fresh at the crease, Finn Allen and Ben Horne were charged with taking the Aces into the middle session, but Horne became Astle’s third victim soon after lunch, leaving a delivery to his peril.
Will Somerville became the seventh wicket with 135 left to win, nicking out to Fraser Sheat after almost an hour at the crease. Finn Allen, on 30*, and three tailenders was now all who stood in the way of a Canterbury celebration. Allen would lose his middle stump to become Astle’s fourth victim, a wicket maiden with 111 still required.
Astle would have his five-wicket bag in his next over, too good for Matt McEwan who skied a catch to Chad Bowes. It was the veteran leg-spinner’s 12th for Canterbury, and 13th of his overall first-class career.
A loss would see the Aces marooned with a round to spare on 74 points; the season for a team that held the competition lead just two rounds previously now rested on the last tailend pair. The odds were firmly in Canterbury’s favour and captain Cole McConchie finished the job off himself with the final wicket. Canterbury and the Central Stags were now the last two teams left in the race.