Canterbury take title, drama unfolds in Napier
Canterbury finished strongly, defeating Northern Districts by eight wickets to take the Plunket Shield 2010/11 title at the Mainpower Oval in Rangiora. Canterbury went into the match in top spot on the points table, but within reach of Central Districts, Northern Districts and Wellington. A strong showing with bat and ball secured the championship for Canterbury though.
Choosing to field, hosts Canterbury began ideally, as opening bowler Matthew Henry ripped through the Northern Districts top order to leave them 24 for 3. The visitors didn't recover, folding for 149. Matthew registered his second five-for in four first class matches, and was well supported by Andrew Ellis who picked up three wickets in 5.1 overs. Canterbury's innings began poorly, with Rob Nicol being bowled by Graeme Aldridge first ball. But six of the next nine batsmen got past 20, and though the top score was Peter Fulton's 62, it was enough to build a sizeable first innings lead as they finished with 278. Brent Arnel was the pick of the bowlers, with figures of 4 for 45.
Northern Districts did much better in their second innings, with half-centuries from Brook Hatwell and Bradley-John Watling pushing the total to 318. Ellis put up his second strong showing with the ball in the match, claiming 4 for 63. Canterbury's top order then made short work of the target of 189, chasing it down in 31.2 overs at better than a run a ball.
If Neil Wagner's record six-ball-five-wicket haul and Canterbury's solid performance to win the title did not grab attention, the drawn match between Central Districts and Auckland at Nelson Park, Napier provided more than it's share of drama.
After piling on the runs on days one and two, and the morning of day three - driven by centuries from Jeet Raval and Andrew de Boorder - Auckland declared at 471 for 4. Needing an outright win (and a Canterbury loss in Rangiora) to challenge for the championship title and with threatening weather on the horizon, Central Districts then took a gamble and declared their first innings at 5 for 1. Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins, in an attempt to push for a victory that would propel the last-placed Auckland into double digit points, responded by forfeiting his team's second innings. Needing 467 from 175 overs, Central Districts were at 159 for 2 at stumps on day three, but predictably rain intervened on the final day, ruling out play.
The teams' surprising decision-making in the match sparked off a lot of debate. That Hopkins left Auckland so much time to get 467 lead to suspicions of collusion being voiced. At the end of day three, with the Canterbury-Northern Districts match heading into an interesting fourth day, Canterbury chief Lee Germon reportedly lodged a complaint with New Zealand Cricket.
But Auckland coach Paul Strang shrugged off negative suggestions. "Gareth is astute and he's pulling the strings out there," he told Hawke's Bay Today. "If he felt we were a few runs short we would have gone out there and batted and got 20, 30, 40 or 50 or whatever he thought we needed. That's the trick with a pitch that's pretty benign. You've got to keep the batting team looking at the scoreboard, give them something to play for - that creates pressure in its own right."
Last year, a match between Northern Districts and Auckland was investigated after both teams forfeited an innings to force a result in a rain-effected game, but no evidence of collusion was found then.