Canterbury and Auckland will battle to meet Wellington in the State Championship final during the last round of preliminary matches starting on Sunday. Wellington lead on 32 points while Auckland (20) stayed in contention with the two points they picked up in the draw with Canterbury (26) on Wednesday.
The match at Eden Park's Outer Oval was highlighted by Tim McIntosh's career-best 268, but once the first innings were completed there was not enough time left to achieve an outright result. McIntosh's 419-ball marathon contained 40 fours and three sixes, and it pushed Auckland's total to 469 when they were dismissed on the second day. There was also a personal best for Leighton Burtt, who returned 6 for 108 before Canterbury fell short of their first-innings goal.
Despite 118 from Shanan Stewart, 96 from Iain Robertson and 89 from Johann Myburgh, the visitors were dismissed for 435, with Andy McKay taking four wickets. Half-centuries to Rob Nicol and Gareth Hopkins, who combined at 35 for 3, helped Auckland reach 261 for 7 and Burtt gained a maiden ten-wicket haul after capturing 4 for 76. Canterbury were 38 for 2 when bad light caused an early end. Auckland will play Wellington from Sunday while Canterbury face Otago.
Wellington jumped back to the top of the table on Tuesday with a three-day, two-wicket win over Central Districts in Palmerston North. Despite the early finish, it was a tight conclusion as the visitors scrambled to 158 after Richard Sherlock (4 for 36) did his best to cause an upset.
Wellington had earned first-innings points on the opening day of the encounter as they passed Central Districts' 150 and went on to reach 346 with half-centuries to Parlane, Crook, Bowden and Nevin. Timothy Lythe (75) and Peter Ingram (60) started the recovery well and Timothy Weston (43) and Michael Mason (39) improved Central Districts' prospects as they posted 353, but it was not quite enough.
Wellington, who needed Mark Gillespie's 6 for 114 on his return from international duty, had Stephen Gellatly's unbeaten 53 to thank for getting them home, while Gillespie's 29 from No.9 was also important. The win secured Wellington's spot in the final for the sixth time in eight seasons, but the venue for the decider will be determined by results in the concluding round.
Centuries to James Marshall and BJ Watling could not seal a win for Northern Districts, who in the end had to hang on for a tense draw against Otago in Hamilton. Chasing a testing target of 332 on the final day, the home team lost Marshall for 117 - his 132-ball stay included 13 fours and four sixes - while Watling (118) remained until he was sixth out, leaving the side with 48 to go. However, they lost another two quick wickets and had to call off the pursuit, finishing at 300 for 8.
Nathan McCullum's 106 not out and a second half-century of the game for Warren McSkimming were responsible for Otago setting a strong target as they closed at 332 for 6. Neil Broom's 150 stood out in Otago's first-innings of 327, with Brent Arnel capturing four wickets, while Northern Districts gained the early points with 328 for 8 declared, a total relying on Daniel Flynn's 109 and Cameron Merchant's 89. Both sides are now out of the race for the final.