Tough games see old foes into final
Old foes Wairau and Wairau Valley will square off in Marlborough senior cricket's McQueen Cup Two-Day Championship final following two absorbing sixth and final round fixtures at Horton Park on Saturday.
The finalists held the top two spots on the points ladder heading into the last round-robin matches, but defending champs Celtic were lurking in third place and none of the three was guaranteed a spot in the title decider.
Knowing they needed to simply prevent Celtic from gaining an outright win or collect a minimum of seven points, Wairau took the upper hand into the match on the No 1 wicket.
Celtic posted 214-8 before declaring in the 53rd over, giving them 57 overs to knock over Wairau. By that stage, though, Wairau knew they only needed to see out the day or reach 150 inside 50 overs to end Celtic's chances.
They lost three early wickets, but another composed knock from Colin Wood, with top support from Josh Clarkson, got the innings back on track and Wairau ended the day at 153-4 to seal a losing draw and their finals berth.
With Celtic unable to gain an outright win, it meant, in the end, Valley required just nine points in their match against Renwick on the No 2 ground.
Not happy with just making the final, Valley scored a 34-run outright victory, bagging the maximum 25 points and catapulting them to top qualifiers.
Useful contributions from Richard Hagen, Tim Abrahams, Blake Parata and Greg Stretch saw Valley reach 223 all out in 52 overs. Opener George Marshall did his best to give Renwick a chance with another good innings, but lacked any real support and they were out for 189 with just four overs left.
More points are available to the team batting first in the English rules format and because of that Celtic opted to take first use of a No 1 track Wairau skipper Nick d'Auvergne said was the best he had seen at Horton Park for some time.
It was clear from the outset bowlers were going to be made to work for their wickets and it wasn't until the 10th over that Elliot Robinson was the first Celtic batsman dismissed.
At the other end, though, rep opener Sean Neal was ticking the scoreboard along nicely, adding 57 with Tom Argyle (27) and 45 with Chris Gibb before eventually being stumped from the bowling of veteran spinner Greg Logan for a patient and well-compiled 65.
Two more quick wickets fell after that and at 133-5, there was still plenty of work to be done.
However, with the loss of Neal, Gibb took over the reins.
The rep batsman steered his side past 150, before he and No 8 Landon Neal hit the accelerator and carried the total past 200.
A 51-run stand ended when Neal was dismissed for 30, from just 28 balls, and when Gibb went two runs later for an even 50, Celtic declared to deny Wairau a further bowling point.
Wairau started out trying to chase down the 215 required for victory, but the early loss of Marty Vercoe, Fraser McIntosh and Mike Hood reduced them to 27-3 and forced them to re-evaluate.
Faced with some tight Celtic bowling, and knowing they simply needed to survive the day, Wood and Clarkson combined for a 104-run fourth-wicket stand that effectively put paid to Celtic's hopes.
Experienced Wood played the dominant role in the partnership and worked the ball expertly into the gaps in an unbeaten 77, his third half-century of the competition, while teenager Clarkson batted with maturity (44) and was impressive in his best senior innings so far.
Despite making a respectable 223 in 52 overs batting first, Valley captain Abrahams was disappointed they did not post a few more in quicker time after getting off to a rapid start.
Following a 53-run opening stand between Matt McCormick (18) and Parata (35), Abrahams and English import Hagen put on 79 swift runs for the third wicket. But, at 139-2, Abrahams (41 off 35) hit spinner Paddy Dawkins straight to point and 15 runs later Hagen (47 off 46) also fell to Dawkins and from there momentum of the Valley innings slowed.
Greg Stretch and Grant Goodwin held the end of the innings together with patient knocks of 26 and 18 not out, respectively.
But, when No 11 Rohan Prasad fell from the final ball of the 52nd over, to seal Dawkins' five-wicket haul, Renwick's fight-back in the second half of the innings was complete.
Marshall was again the glue of the Renwick innings and, if he had been given more support from his fellow top-order batsmen, Valley could well have been made to rue shelling him at gully on 10 off the bowling off Leo Adendorff.
Unfortunately for the diminutive opener, though, wickets fell at regular intervals around him and when he was finally removed by Mark Gear for 83, including nine fours and one six, any chance of a Renwick triumph was lost at 152-8.
Skipper and No 6 Mike Bown (25) was the next highest scorer, while gutsy innings from young Braden Stewart (23), at No 9, and Dawkins (21), at No 10, almost enabled their team to hold on for a draw.
Attack spearhead Gear led from the front and claimed his first five-wicket bag of the season (5-50 from 19.4), while young left-armer Adendorff was highly impressive with the new ball and could well have returned better figures than 2-37 from 11.
Final points standings: Wairau Valley 75, Wairau 72, Celtic 58, Renwick 34.
The Marlborough Express