Stags, Firebirds go right down to the wire
Having set the Plunket Shield pace since the first day of the season, Wellington now need a slip-up from their nearest rivals with assistance from two former team-mates to win their first title in 14 years.
Central Stags, courtesy of an innings victory over Canterbury last week, hit the front at just the right time and enter Monday’s final round four points clear of their cricketing neighbours the Firebirds who stumbled to an innings defeat to Northern Districts.
In a tense two-horse race for the $75,000 winners’ prizemoney, both will chase it at different venues over the next four days: the Stags at Napier’s Nelson Park against Northern, and Wellington away to Auckland at Eden Park’s Outer Oval.
Both venues have batsmanfriendly reputations and with fine weather forecast in Napier and Auckland it may come down to the punch of the respective bowling attacks.
The Stags notched their sixth outright win from nine matches when they pummelled bottomplaced Canterbury by an innings and 58 runs at McLean Park. They face an ND team missing legspinner Ish Sodhi to test duty after he snared 7-30 and 12 for the match at the Basin Reserve to crush the Firebirds by an innings and 56. ND
Caps allrounder Corey Anderson in their ranks before he departs to the Indian Premier League, along with seamers Scott Kuggeleijn and Brent Arnel who both featured for Wellington in the years since the Firebirds’ last first-class title in 2004.
The Stags showed their impressive depth this season amid injuries and international callups, and are in the box seat to go one better than their white ball deciders, having lost the Twenty20 final to the Knights and the one-day final to Auckland. Central last won the first-class title in 2013, before Canterbury won it in three of the next four seasons.
Left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel is again the competition’s leading wicket-taker with 42 at an average of 21, six clear of Auckland’s Matt McEwan (36 at 25) and Wellington’s Iain McPeake (35 at 18). Stags opener Greg Hay set the pace in the runscoring charts with 756 at an average of 69, neck and neck with Wellington opener Michael Papps who moved clear again with 796 at 57.
Central Stags opener Greg Hay has scored 756 Plunket Shield runs at 69 this season.