Stags, Fire­birds go right down to the wire

Marlborough Midweek - - OUT & ABOUT - MARK GEENTY

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

have

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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.

PHOTO: CHRIS SYMES/PHOTOSPORT

Cen­tral Stags opener Greg Hay has scored 756 Plun­ket Shield runs at 69 this sea­son.

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