The Plunket Shield, New Zealand's premier first-class competition, got underway on Monday with the six provincial sides star-studded with familiar Black Caps faces. The tournament sees four rounds being played till mid-November before the one-day competition — Ford Trophy — and the Super Smash run alongside New Zealand's International summer. The Shield resumes in March with the final round slated to be played in April next year.
Wellington, who were crowned champions following the cancellation of two rounds earlier this year in wake of the pandemic, began their title defence against Canterbury at the Basin Reserve in an underwhelming fashion, losing by 8 wickets.
Northern Districts squared off against Central Districts in a rain-marred encounter, but a double declaration from the two sides saw a final day chase which eventually saw Central home in a comfortable manner.
Otago faced a humiliating defeat by an innings at the hands of Rob O'Donnell's Auckland side in the capital.
Northern Districts vs Central Districts at Seddon Park, Hamilton
ND 253/8d & 0/0d
CD 0/0d & 254/3
It was a dull start to the season at Seddon Park, with only 20.4 overs of play possible on day one as rain hampered the proceedings. However, a double declaration on the final day of the fixture meant that there was a prospect of a result despite losing six sessions.
After an opening partnership of 127 in the first innings, with fifties from Jeet Raval and Henry Cooper, Northern Districts stitched brief partnerships to post 253/8 on the final day as both teams forfeited an innings each to set up a chase of 254 in about 70 overs for the Central Districts.
In reply, George Worker (96) and captain Greg Hay (93) batted for 51.3 overs to put up an opening stand of 177, and withstood any resistance provided by the Black Caps duo of Southee and Wagner.
Will Young, who might just make his much-awaited Test debut this summer, scored a breezy 43* to see his side over the line with 26 balls to spare, but it wasn't before Wagner dismissed Ross Taylor for a first-ball duck.
The previous instance of a double declaration also involved Central Districts at Nelson in 2018, albeit, against their southern island opponents Canterbury, which the former eventually prevailed in.
Wellington vs Canterbury at Basin Reserve, Wellington
Wellington 65 & 212
Canterbury 156 & 126/2
Defending champions Wellington endured a tough start to their campaign, as Canterbury cruised to a comfortable victory on the final day.
Electing to bowl first on a green pitch, Matt Henry proved to be a menace for the home side as he picked 4 wickets steamrolling Wellington out for a mere 65. Hamish Bennett retorted with a four-wicket haul of his own as Canterbury took a crucial 91-run lead.
In reply, however, the hosts lost wickets at regular intervals. If it wasn't for the Black Caps’ latest recruit Devon Conway’s consolidated 81, there would have been hardly a score for their bowlers to bowl at.
With a target of 122 to hunt down, the opening duo of Tom Latham and Chad Bowes ensured there was no cause for alarm, stitching a 119-run partnership to set up an 8-wicket victory for Canterbury. Latham dominated the stand hitting 12 boundaries and a brace of sixes.
Auckland vs Otago at Eden Park Outer Oval, Auckland
Otago 186 & 54
Otago were handed a massive drubbing and were significantly outplayed by a strong Auckland outfit inside three days.
With a similar premise to the game at Basin Reserve, Auckland vindicated their decision to bowl first on a green pitch by reducing the visitors to 33-6 on the first morning. However, Michael Rippon brought up a valiant 106 to save his team the blushes.
He was ably supported by former NZ U19 wicketkeeper Max Chu, playing just his fourth first-class game, in a 107-run stand to put up a respectable 186 on the board. Kyle Jamieson picked up 5-39 along the way.
In reply, Auckland were reduced to 94-5, at which point the game was firmly in balance before vice-captain Ben Horne (of the discreet Yezmen fraternity) defied the conditions to score a freakish 162 to ensure a solid 183-run lead to kill the contest.
In reply, Otago were shot out for a paltry 54, with Sean Solia engineering a stunning collapse that saw the visitors lose 9 wickets for 31 runs. Barring Anaru Kitchen’s knock of 30, no other batsman registered a double-digit score.
The game also saw left-arm quick Ben Lister becoming cricket’s first Covid-19 substitute replacing Mark Chapman on the first day. Ish Sodhi displayed flu-like symptoms before being replaced by off-spinner Joe Walker for the Northern Districts.