van Wyk, Bracewell star in Central Districts win
Central Districts took just over 30 overs on the fourth day to beat Wellington by 243 runs at Nelson Park in Napier. But the margin of victory doesn't tell the entire story. At one point Central Districts were in trouble at 66 for 6 in their second innings. It took a 187-run stand between wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk and seamer Doug Bracewell to set Wellington a target of 405 in the fourth innings.
Joshua Brodie and Cameron Merchant played confidently at the end of day three to set up an interesting last day with Wellington needing 344 more to win with nine wickets in hand. Central Districts' opening bowlers Michael Mason and Ben Wheeler quickly made it a one-horse race, though. Wheeler dismissed Brodie and Neal Parlane off consecutive balls before Mason struck twice in two overs to reduce Wellington to 79 for 5. Wheeler and Mason both finished with three wickets apiece, as did left-arm fast bowler Mitchell McClenaghan, who wiped out Wellington's tail.
The win was set up by van Wyk and Bracewell in the third innings, after Central Districts had taken a 87-run lead in the first innings. Both fell in sight of well-deserved centuries. Andrew Lamb took both wickets to return with figures of 6 for 70 in the second innings.
Wicketkeeper Joe Austin-Smellie took six catches in the first innings, while a steady 80 off 141 balls from Brad Patton helped Central District reach 293. Wheeler took 6 for 60 in Wellington's first innings to give Central District the advantage, before Van Wyk and Bracewell set up the win.
Otago and Northern Districts began the season with a draw as batting seemed to gradually become easier at the Queenstown Events Centre. Otago's decision to bat ran into early trouble as seamer Graeme Aldridge prised out early wickets to leave them stuttering at 38 for 4 and later 84 for 5, before Sam Wells and Derek de Boorder began to resist. Wells struck 14 fours and a six in his 70 that came off 97 balls while de Boorder fell eight short of a maiden first-class ton after steering his side past 300. Aldridge finished with six wickets.
Northern Districts' reply featured several significant contributions, but none that was substantial enough for a huge lead. Six batsmen scored over 31, but the highest score was Joseph Yovich's 61, after opener Brad Wilson made 60. Neil Wagner did the most damage, finishing with figures of 6 for 55 as Norther Districts finished 74 ahead. Otago's second innings too began in shaky fashion and, at 33 for 4 early on the third morning, they were in a tight spot. The Broom brothers, Neil and Darren, however came together to steer them to safety. The pair added 252 runs for the fifth wicket before Darren fell for 112. Neil pressed on with the tail to reach a double-hundred that included 22 fours and a six before Otago declared, setting Northern Districts 365 to win in around half a day's play. The visitors chose caution over valour, with openers Brad Wilson and Daniel Flynn scoring steady half-centuries, as the game petered into a draw.
Canterbury and Auckland were involved in a game of fluctuating fortunes that eventually ended in a stalemate at Village Green in Christchurch. Canterbury chose to bat and began in determined fashion as Rob Nicol, supported by Michael Papps and Rob Nicol, laid the foundation for a big score. Nicol made 75 before No. 5 Dean Brownlie took charge of the innings with an assured 151 off 248 balls inclusive of 18 fours. Reece Young and Todd Astle chipped in with significant contributions to push the score to 435 for 9 when the hosts decided to declare.
Auckland's innings began in disastrous fashion, with Ryan McCone removing both openers for ducks. Things got progressively worse from there and, at 29 for 4, Canterbury would have nursed hopes of pushing for an innings win. Colin de Grandhomme began the resistance along with Anaru Kitchen, the pair adding 76 to weather the storm. Kyle Mills stepped up after de Grandhomme's exit, contributing 69, while Kitchen reached his maiden first-class ton before Auckland were bowled out for 289, conceding a 146-run lead. Micahael Papps and Peter Fulton led Canterbury's second innings with half-centuries, before offspinner Bhupinder Singh stalled them with four cheap wickets. The hosts declared at 187 for 7, setting Auckland a target of 334 with most of the final day's play remaining. Auckland began with a draw in mind, but Bradley Cachopa and Andrew de Boorder scored fluent half-centuries that might have left Canterbury sweating. Mills joined in the fun again, scoring 45 off 52 balls, but it was not enough to force a result.