With just 12 days of cricket remaining in the New Zealand domestic first-class season, the heat is on the top contenders to bring it home.
With a maximum 20 points available per match and three rounds left, Canterbury is out in front by 11 points, chased by Northern Districts in second spot. They’re tailed by the Wellington Firebirds, 13 points behind the leader and two behind ND.
Defending champions the Auckland Aces meanwhile need a big couple of rounds to make up ground from fourth position — the Aces currently on 54 points to Canterbury’s 73.
Full points table
Complicating everyone’s late summer plans is the curve ball of weather, a Tasman tempest seeing all three matches reduced to draws in last week’s day/night round.
Pre-Christmas, largely sunny skies saw six outright results and eight drawn matches, while the Central Stags’ and Firebirds’ planned encounter at the Basin Reserve was abandoned following the earthquake that rocked Kaikoura and Wellington.
Since the February resumption of whites, Canterbury is the only one of the top four sides to have chalked up an outright (grabbing what could prove a pivotal seven-wicket win over the Firebirds) while the Otago Volts got their first win against ND, hauling themselves off the bottom rung of the ladder and at the same time costing a weakened ND the competition lead.
In the latest round, the Firebirds had got themselves into a commanding position at the Basin, having forced the Otago Volts to follow on, before a combination of weather and a top drawer eighth-wicket partnership from Sam Wells and Nathan Smith saw them denied the outright points.
Likewise, the lagging Stags were all over ND at Seddon Park, before their rotten luck resurfaced in the form of the La Niña weather system kicking in. Hit hard this summer by bowling injuries, they have been reinforced by the return of Adam Milne in the last round and now Jesse Ryder, and have standout Seth Rance coming off a career best six-for. But they may have left the run too late.
The Stags can take heart in off-spinner Ajaz Patel (above). He has backed up his crown as last season's top first-class wicket-taker with another 31 so far this season, four wickets in front of Aces veteran Tarun Nethula, spinners again dominating the list.
This week’s crunch round unfolds in Napier (Stags v Firebirds), Auckland (Aces v ND) and Christchurch (Canterbury v Volts) with Auckland looking to have the best of the weather and Hagley Oval forecast to fine up after the first day. The Firebirds and Stags, however, may well be casting grim glances to the cloudy skies in Hawke’s Bay.
Canterbury has been a regular custodian of the Plunket Shield in recent seasons, having won the national title in 2010/11, 2013/14 and 2014/15. A three-peat went begging last summer but chances are the red and blacks will be thinking three out of four ain’t bad.
Jesse Ryder (Stags) requires 29 runs to reach 8000 first-class runs
Luke Woodcock (Firebirds) requires 263 runs to reach 7000 first-class runs
Rob Nicol (Aces) requires 82 runs to reach 6000 first-class runs
Andrew Ellis (Canterbury) requires 148 runs to reach 5000 first-class runs
Todd Astle (Canterbury) requires 159 runs to reach 4000 first-class runs
Will Young (Central Stags) requires 213 runs to reach 3000 first-class runs
Scott Kuggeleijn (Northern Districts) requires 5 runs to reach 2000 first-class runs
Tom Blundell (Firebirds) requires 125 runs to reach 2000 first-class runs
Cameron Fletcher (Canterbury) requires 110 runs to reach 2000 first-class runs
Tom Bruce (Central Stags) requires 241 runs to reach 2000 first-class runs
Tim Seifert (Northern Districts) requires 49 runs to reach 1000 first-class runs
Ken McClure (Canterbury) requires 69 runs to reach 1000 first-class runs
Ish Sodhi (Northern Districts) requires three wickets to reach 150 first-class wickets
Jacob Duffy (Otago Volts) requires two wickets to reach 100 first-class wickets
Ben Wheeler (Central Stags — out of action) requires four wickets to reach 100 first-class wickets
Colin Munro (Aces — out of action) requires two wickets to reach 50 first-class wickets
Adam Milne (Central Stags) requires three wickets to reach 50 first-class wickets
Kyle Jamieson (Canterbury — out of action) requires four wickets to reach 50 first-class wickets
Rob Nicol (Aces) requires seven wickets to reach 50 first-class wickets
Cameron Fletcher (Canterbury) requires 7 dismissals to reach 100 first-class dismissals
Todd Astle (Canterbury)— 300 first-class wickets
Rob Nicol (Aces)— 4000 first-class runs for the Auckland Aces
Neil Broom (Otago Volts)— 8000 first-class runs