Central Districts upset champions Auckland by four wickets
A round-up of the last round of the Plunket Shield matches that ended on April 2, 2016
A century from opener Ben Smith and a second successive five-wicket haul from seamer Navin Patel helped Central Districts to a four-wicket victory over Plunket Shield Champions Auckland in Napier.
Auckland had already secured the title coming into this game, and as such their concern would have been on maintaining an unblemished record. They had not lost a single game this season. Their own opener Jeet Raval had set things up nicely with his 147 off 216 balls with 19 fours. Auckland had won the toss, opted to bat and posted a formidable 396 in 98.3 overs at a run-rate of 4.02.
Raval's innings, though, was made necessary with fast bowler Doug Bracewell knocking over Martin Guptill-Bunce for 6 and Robert O'Donnell for 11. Bracewell finished with 5 for 60 in 19 overs, but with Raval leading the batting effort and the middle order putting up staunch resistance - Shawn Hicks made 50 and Colin de Grandhomme made 63 - Auckland got hold of the advantage.
It began slipping away soon though as Central Districts made a fine start to their first innings. Smith dropped anchor and was at the crease for nearly 500 minutes, while the rest of the line-up played around him. His 161 included 17 fours and a six, and he was dismissed by Donovan Grobbelaar when the scores were level at 396. Central Districts still had four wickets in hand though and one of them was Bracewell, who struck 75 off 83 balls with six fours and two sixes and propelled the total to 464.
A lead of 68 proved all the more valuable for Central Districts when they reduced Auckland to 102 for 6 at the end of the third day's play. Navin, who was playing his fifth first-class match, was troublemaker-in-chief. He finished with a career-best 5 for 71. Grobbelaar was the top-scorer with 58 off 124 balls, while Nos. 10 and 11 Lachie Ferguson and Matthew Quinn contributed 31 and 35 runs respectively to a total of 266.
That meant Central Districts were set a target of 199. Smith and his opening partner Greg Hay knocked off 100 of them, but tension began brewing as legspinner Tarun Nethula began to find purchase on a fourth-day pitch. He got rid of Smith for 49 and went on to complete 200 first-class wickets and his seventh five-wicket haul, which dragged Central Districts from 155 for 2 to 181 for 6. Tom Bruce, the No. 5 batsman, and Navin, who hung around for 5 off 19 balls, eventually took Central Districts over the line.
Auckland's Brad Cachopa completed two catches and a stumping in the match, which gave him the record for most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in a Plunket Shield season - 45, one better than the efforts of the previous record-holder Derek de Boorder.
Canterbury finished second in the Plunket Shield after securing 20 points with a seven-wicket win against Wellington at the Basin Reserve. Their win was set up by a century from Ken McClure in the first innings before they asked Wellington to follow-on and the Canterbury pacers did the rest.
Put in to bat, Canterbury rode on fifties from top-order batsmen Chad Bowes (81) and Peter Fulton (76) followed by McClure's 115. Offspinner Jeetan Patel bothered them a bit with four wickets but a patient and unbeaten 79 from Todd Astle pushed Canterbury to 430 for 8, when they declared. Wellington had only one batsman - Stephen Murdoch (105) - go past the score of 30 as Hamish Bennett and Andrew Ellis dismissed them for 201 to make them bat again.
Still trailing by 229, Wellington put up a better performance in their second attempt, with a century from No. 6 Tom Blundell taking them to 333. But that set Canterbury a modest target of 105, which they surpassed in 20 overs with the help of an unbeaten 25-ball 55 from Ellis, who struck six fours and four sixes.
Northern Districts and Otago played out a rather tame draw in Whangarei to round off an underwhelming Plunket Shield campaign for both teams. Northern Districts finished fourth out of six teams, while Otago brought up the rear.
Entering the final day at 55 for 2, Otago still trailed by 78 runs with eight second-innings wickets in hand. Overnight batsmen Brad Wilson and Anaru Kitchen stodgily added 83 runs in 49.3 overs, before the partnership was broken. James Neesham then joined Wilson to see Otago through to the end with no further loss.
After having won the toss and elected to bat, Otago managed 298 in their first innings, largely on the back of Wilson's 126. The other top-order batsmen did not convert scores in the 20s and 30s into more substantial ones and part of their problem was seamer James Baker, who picked up 5 for 63.
In reply, Northern Districts amassed 431, thanks to BJ Watling's 176 and tournament top-scorer Bharat Popli's 89. The two batsmen shared a 199-run third-wicket stand to take the score to 245 for 3, before Otago fought.
Joe Walker retired hurt for 1, which provided the opening for legspinner Rhys Phillips and medium-pacer Christi Viljoen to contain the middle and lower order. Wicketkeeper Tim Seifert struck 65 off 95 balls at No. 9 to consolidate Northern Districts' lead. With eight wickets to take on the final day, they may have hoped to finish the season with a victory but that was not to be.