Astle, Latham lead Canterbury to championship
Todd Astle's career-best match-haul of 14 wickets and a double-hundred from Tom Latham set up Canterbury's nine-wicket win over Central Districts. The win ensured that Canterbury finished as Plunket Shield champions by virtue of topping the group with 106 points.
Opting to bat, Central Districts had piled up a commanding 403, built around Kruger van Wyk's 111 and fifties from Ben Smith (91), Tarun Nethula (81) and Dean Robinson (62). Astle, who bowled nearly 52 overs was the chief wicket-taker, finishing with 8 for 154, his best innings figures in first-class cricket.
Canterbury responded with a mammoth 582, anchored by Latham's first-class best of 261. The opening batsman played 383 balls in his innings and scored 30 fours and a six and ensured that by the time he was out, Canterbury had overtaken the opposition score comfortably. AY Patel was the most successful bowler for Central Districts with returns of 6 for 162.
Astle then ran through the Central Districts' batting order, dismissing their first-innings performers cheaply to scuttle the side for 182. That left Canterbury with a target of 4 runs, which they achieved in four balls.
Auckland's Craig Cachopa reversed a collapse with his maiden double-century in first-class cricket and then added a further 90 in the second innings to set up a daunting target, which proved beyond the reach of Wellington at Eden Park.
Mark Gillespie's new-ball spell threw Auckland's decision to bat in considerable doubt. The medium-pacer claimed three of the top-four batsmen, the other being run-out, to engender a bleak scoreline of 27 for 4. However, Cachopa in the company of his captain Gareth Hopkins engineered a stunning 247-run partnership for the sixth wicket, at 4.54 per over, to drown Wellington's early advantage.
Cachopa had 17 fours and two sixes when he reached his century but swelled that tally by nine and seven each race to a double-ton off only 204 balls. Hopkins provided ideal foil, as he ground his way to 70 off 171 balls. Bruce Martin struck a handy fifty at No.8 as the total swelled to 394.
Wellington's reply was brisk, but it stalled when the opening stand was broken on 62 in the 19th over. They could muster only eight runs in the next 55 balls, and lost three further wickets. Colin de Grandhomme was the wrecker-in-chief, accounting for four of the top-five and returning to snare a further two wickets to finish at 6 for 24. Fighting half-centuries from Luke Ronchi and Luke Woodcock though provided enough sustenance for the total to reach 298.
Cachopa and de Grandhomme established the 96-run lead and took it upon themselves to turn it into a match-winning one. Both batsmen struck rapid fifties to pose a target of 425.
Wellington's chase suffered a setback off the very first ball as Josh Brodie nicked off to Matthew Quinn. The top-order endured another collapse before Tom Blundell and Luke Ronchi joined hands during a 93-run sixth wicket stand that kept the visitors in the game. Blundell recoded his second first-class century while Ronchi added his second fifty of the match. Woodcock bolstered their resistance with a steady 42, but Quinn and Martin polished off the tail to leave Wellington well short.
Michael Bracewell's first-innings century paved the way for Otago's four-wicket victory against Northern Districts in Dunedin. Bracewell struck 21 fours and two sixes during his 154, while Neil Broom (57) and Jimmy Neesham (68) chipped in with fifties to lift Otago to a formidable 326. Disappointingly for Otago though, Hamish Rutherford was unable to shake of his poor form from the recent series against India, and fell for a duck, as did Nathan McCullum. Scott Kuggeleijn was the pick of Northern Districts' bowlers and finished with 5 for 63.
Northern Districts' reply, however, was feeble as barring a 51 from Mitchell Santner, none of the other batsmen produced more than 20. Neil Wagner picked up six wickets to run through Northern Districts' top and middle order and helped bundle the team out for 132 in 43.4 overs.
Otago enforced the follow-on and made an early breakthrough as Bradley Scott had Brad Wilson caught behind early on. Northern Districts, however, recovered and rallied on the back of a 136-run stand between Daniel Flynn (50) and Joe Carter (87), as well as half-centuries from Santner (56) and Kuggeleijn (61) to make 324.
However, Otago's massive lead meant that the team only needed 131 for the win. Otago nearly made a mess of the paltry chase by losing six wickets, but McCullum's unbeaten 38 took the team over the line in 25.1 overs.