As if the gripping Ford Trophy Final wasn’t enough, the Outer Oval has continued to turn up the tension with two consecutive Plunket Shield thrillers showcasing all that is good in First-Class cricket.
First up, Otago returned to the ground where they had been vanquished 50-over finalists a few days before and batted through 93 overs on the last day to hang on for a draw, 9 wickets down. The last man Michael Rae survived 43 minutes and faced 34 balls as the tenth-wicket partnership, with Nathan Smith, endured almost 12 overs before stumps were drawn.
As the business end of the season approaches, Otago’s defiant effort prevented the ACES from securing an important outright victory. Until the last afternoon, Auckland had dominated. A big first innings had seen Martin Guptill and Glenn Phillips score hundreds and three other of the ACES top seven also going beyond fifty, including Ben Horne who passed a thousand runs in First-Class cricket during his 67.
It was a fifth First-Class century for Phillips and a 16th for Guptill, who has the same number of One Day International hundreds and a total of 27 List A centuries in all.
Louis Delport in his sixth First-Cass match then claimed a maiden five-wicket haul with his slow left-armers, as Otago battled their way beyond any risk of following on thanks to a maiden hundred from Nick Kelly.
The ACES’ second innings of 184/5 came at almost nine runs an over, Jeet Raval leading the way with a 53-ball 66, and that set up the declaration which in turn created the fourth day excitement.
A week later Northern Districts were the visitors for another high scoring match. Henry Cooper and Joe Carter scored first day hundreds and the ACES conceded a half-century of extras as the score climbed to 438.
Mark Chapman, in such superlative form during the Ford Trophy Final, replied with a century of his own and there were sixties from Guptill and O’Donnell to enable the Aucklanders to declare 87 behind.
Carter then added a second hundred in the match as Sean Solia and Delport wrapped up the Northern innings for 283. The ACES had all the last day to score 371 for victory.
Ironically after such a dry summer the weather now played its hand and the ACES spent much of the morning and the early afternoon looking out at the covers and across the ground to a scoreboard reading 32/2. Eventually the rain did stop, the weather cleared and play resumed with the day reduced to 75 overs.
After 32 of those overs, the score was 102/5 – less than 32 overs later it was 313/6 with Ben Horne dismissed for 107, his maiden First-Class century scored on his 27th birthday. He and Mark Chapman had added 205 for the sixth wicket at six and a half runs an over and it was a record sixth-wicket stand for Auckland against Northern Districts.
Chapman was out shortly after for 146, his second century of the match, and with the overs running out there was still plenty of work to be done. At 328/8, Louis Delport came to the wicket, and at 269/9, with victory two runs away, he was joined by number 11, Ben Lister.
There were five balls left in the game, and Lister used two of them to score the single which brought Delport on strike. The fourth was another dot ball and then Ish Sodhi’s fifth delivery was struck back over the bowler’s head to the boundary. The ACES had won by one wicket and there was one ball left in the game.
Delport had made his First Class debut for Western Province in South Africa in 2014 before migrating to New Zealand and he has made some very useful contributions through the summer. None has been more important than this 24 not out, which guided his side to victory and second place on the Plunket Shield points table with three games to play – including a rematch against Northern Districts in Whangarei.
Much has been made of the fact that this match was the first-ever Plunket Shield match when two players both scored a century in each innings. The last two Northern Districts players to achieve the feat were their ‘imports’, English Test players Matthew Maynard and Graeme Hick. The last home-grown Northern Districts player to notch up two hundreds in the same match was Barry Cooper, whose son Henry had been Northern’s other century-maker in this match. Cooper Senior had scored 105 and 100 against Canterbury in Gisborne during the 1986-87 season.
And as a matter of interest, the last Aucklander to score two hundreds in a match was Colin Munro with 146 and 142 against Central Districts in the 2016-17 summer. Munro is now in Pakistan, forming a potent opening partnership alongside Luke Ronchi for Islamabad United, in the Pakistan Super League.
This competition is the current focus on the international T20 circuit and the Kiwi opening pair of Munro and Ronchi are attracting plenty of attention for their run-making feats. Before this weekend’s games, Ronchi, averaging 48.8, had the highest run aggregate in the competition. Munro is averaging 34.2 and he also has a place amongst the tournament’s Top Ten run-scorers.
Underlining their value to their side, in 7 matches together they have enjoyed two opening partnerships in excess of 90. Munro has a highest score of 87 not out from 59 balls, while Ronchi’s best is an unbeaten 85 from 58 balls.
Another of the ACES line-up, Mitch McClenaghan, is also in Pakistan with the Karachi Kings, but he is yet to have the opportunity to make an impression on the tournament.
For the WHITE FERNS, the T20 World Cup proved a case of so close, yet so far. Either side of a gutsy fightback against Bangladesh, two narrow losses to the eventual finalists saw them return home early from another tournament, ruing what might have been.
However in both instances, against India and Australia, the WHITE FERNS lost to the better team. New Zealand didn’t quite have the composure or the experience to own enough of the key moments against the top sides.
From a HEARTS perspective, neither Lauren Down or Holly Huddleston featured in the tournament, while Katie Perkins played the first match at the WACA against Sri Lanka but wasn’t required to bat. Coming back from injury, Anna Peterson played all three matches in Melbourne, putting in a tight spell against Bangladesh and finishing the top wicket-taker against the Australians.
Speaking of the World Cup, New Zealand umpire Kim Cotton, a lawyer by profession who began her umpiring career in Timaru, has made history as the first woman named as one of the two on-field officials for an ICC World Cup Final.
Prior to the amalgamation of the women’s game and the men’s game, women had umpired in the 1973 and 1993 World Cup Finals in England, but this has not previously occurred since the ICC took responsibility for international women’s cricket. Incidentally when New Zealand first hosted the One Day Women’s World Cup, played over 60 overs-a-side in 1981-82, the Final was umpired by Dickie Bird and Fred Goodall.
It is not the first time that New Zealand women have made umpiring history. In January 1987, Pat Carrick, a former New Zealand player herself, had become the first woman in the world to umpire a men’s First Class match. She went on to stand in another 14 First-Class games over four seasons.
And while we’re talking pioneering cricketing women, in 1930 a young Aucklander named Alison Hall is thought to have been the first woman in the world to serve as official scorer at a men’s Test match. Hall took the book at the Eden Park Test match between New Zealand and England. She later married Auckland and New Zealand batsman Paul Whitelaw.