Auckland claimed the Plunket Shield with a round to spare, after a dominant last two-and-a-half days at the Basin Reserve saw them have the better of the draw against Wellington.
Centuries for Michael Guptill-Bunce and Donovan Grobbelaar enabled the visitors to pile on a mammoth 598 in their second innings, the highest domestic total at the Basin Reserve. That left Wellington with a target of 515 in less than a day, which was always going to be beyond their reach.
The top three gave Wellington a solid start in the fourth innings, taking the score to 193 for 1, before legspinner Tarun Nethula had Stephen Murdoch caught behind for 78 shortly before tea. Nethula removed the other set batsman, Luke Woodcock, for 67, first ball after tea. Thereafter, wickets fell at regular intervals, as Wellington stuttered towards their final score of 308 for 8.
While Auckland ended up two wickets short of an outright win, the draw will still leave them pleased. Not only does it hand them the coveted Shield, but it also extends their unbeaten run this season - they have won six matches and drawn three. It is also their second title this season, after they won the Georgie Pie Super Smash T20 tournament previously in the season.
Auckland finished the match strongly after having made a poor start to it. Brent Arnel's five-wicket haul saw the visitors being bowled out in 34 overs for a score of 152. Grobbelaar was the only Auckland batsman to cross 20. Wellington then managed to put on 236, for an 84-run, first-innings lead, even as fast bowler Lachie Ferguson claimed a five-wicket haul of his own.
That lead was dwarfed by Auckland's second innings, as Guptill-Bunce's 189 and Grobbelaar's maiden first-class ton took Auckland to a position of total authority. With the Shield secured, Auckland will look to finish the season unbeaten in the last round of matches.
Canterbury, whose hopes of a three-peat were dashed by the Auckland result, drew with Northern Districts in Christchurch. Having opted to bowl, Canterbury began well with fast bowler Hamish Bennett cutting through the Northern Districts top order for returns of 3 for 42. The slide seeped into the middle order as well, despite starts from Bharat Popli, Anton Devcich, and Tim Seifert.
However, handy lower-order contributions from no. 9 Joe Walker and no. 10 Zak Gibson helped their side to 185, before legspinner Todd Astle, who missed his berth in New Zealand's World T20 squad, cleaned up the tail, taking three wickets.
Quick bowler Gibson, all of 19, returned the favour, and quickly reduced Canterbury to 9 for 2. Brett Hampton and Gibson shared eight wickets, but knocks of 58 each from captain Peter Fulton, Astle and Cam Fletcher steered Canterbury to a first-innings lead of 73.
Northern Districts then lifted their batting significantly in their second innings, Popli leading the way with 92 off 198 balls, including nine fours. He built on the platform laid by openers Daniel Flynn (51) and Dean Brownlie (59) who added 116 together. Seifert produced a fifty of his own as Canterbury were set a target of 283. Astle took 4 for 82, stretching his match tally to seven. Matt Henry also returned 4 for 83.
Canterbury stuttered their way to 78 for 6 in 49 overs, with only Chad Bowes and Ken McClure managing double figures. Northern Districts used as many as nine bowlers, Hampton being the pick of the lot with figures of 2 for 20. The result means that Canterbury have more or less secured a third-place finish in the table.
In their bottom-of-the-table clash, Otago and Central Districts played out a hard-fought draw in Dunedin.
After being set a target of 343, Otago moved briskly to 120 for 2, scoring at almost 5 runs per over. However, Navin Patel struck twice in the 25th over, dismissing Anaru Kitchen and James Neesham. This stalled the momentum of the innings and opened a period in which wickets fell at regular intervals. Despite Ryan Duffy's 104, Otago stuttered to 219 for 7, before Christi Viljoen (55*) led a lower-order resistance to take Otago to 305 for 8, just 38 adrift of the target, when time ran out.
Central Districts had taken a 60-run first-innings lead, with Dane Cleaver's 93 helping them to 258, before Patel's five-wicket haul bowled Otago out for 198. Building on that lead, the visitors compiled 282 for 8 declared in their second innings, but their last-day victory push was frustrated by Duffy and the Otago lower order.