Batting finesse deserts Marlborough again
The Marlborough senior cricket team's top-order batting woes continued as they started their Hawke Cup zone three campaign with a comprehensive first innings loss to arch-rivals Nelson at Horton Park in Blenheim over the weekend.
The home side went into the match with two defeats to Nelson already this season fresh in their mind, a poor performance with the willow a major contributing factor on both occasions.
Despite plenty of work at training and most of the batsmen scoring runs in club cricket prior to the two-day rep fixture, once again almost all of the Marlborough batsmen were unable to deliver big runs.
Nelson posted what was probably a slightly over par 308 batting first after losing the toss and being inserted on a flat, batter-friendly Horton No 1 surface. Following a steady start, wickets fell regularly throughout the Marlborough innings and they were eventually all out for just 153.
With 31 overs left to play yesterday, the visitors enforced the follow-on and reduced Marlborough to 72-3 in 19 overs before both captains shook hands.
Marlborough skipper Nick d'Auvergne made the slightly surprising decision to bowl first after winning the toss on Saturday morning, but it was not long before his call appeared to be vindicated as Nelson fell to 36-3. Lofty opening bowler Ben McLennan got rid of openers Marty Kain and Dan Cooper, while first-change left-armer Ben Stark picked up the key scalp of Nelson skipper B J Barnett.
At the other end, though, No 3 Greg Hay remained. The former Central Districts player has been in superb touch this season and the bad news for Marlborough was that was about to continue. The innings' resurrection began when he and Ricky Edwards (22) added 62 for the fourth wicket and when Hay was finally dismissed, caught at mid-wicket off Stark's bowling, for a highly impressive and chanceless 79, Nelson were 157-5.
Ryan Edwards (0) and NZ under-19 all-rounder Connor Neynens (45) were gone for the addition of just 24 further runs and at 180-7 Marlborough were back on top. But an 83-run eighth-wicket stand between wicketkeeper Simon McGowan and No 9 Joe O'Connor, who hit an aggressive 49, put Nelson back in the ascendancy as the tail wagged. McGowan added 45 more runs with the last two batsmen Darius Skeaping (9) and Marty King (10) and when the innings was eventually over in the 107th over, the diminutive wicketkeeper remained unbeaten and had contributed a valuable 60.
Stark finished the best of the Marlborough bowlers with three wickets, while McLennan (2-44) impressed with the new ball and Greg Knowles (2-61) toiled hard and could well have got more reward.
Marlborough openers Tim Abrahams and Sean Neal survived a tricky three overs at the end of the day's play, meaning all 10 wickets were intact when play began yesterday.
Neal was the first to fall at 13-1, but as the lunch break loomed Abrahams and Chris Gibb had cautiously edged Marlborough forward and prevented any further damage. At 57-1, though, Abrahams (29) attempt to push the field back, failed and skied an easy catch to point from off-spinner Kain.
Josh Poole fell soon after lunch and, although Gibb's defiant knock continued as he and Greg Stretch took their team past 100, when Stretch (19) was removed by a brilliant low catch on the boundary from O' Connor at 122-4, things quickly deteriorated.
Just one run later, Gibb edged Neynens to gully for a 135-ball 56 and from there the final five wickets fell for just 30 runs. Only a composed 14 not out from No 9 Stark allowed Marlborough to narrowly go past 150.
Central Districts limited overs player Kain finished with four wickets and Barnett and Skeaping bagged two apiece, but all six Nelson bowlers played their part in Marlborough's demise.
With just 31 overs remaining, an outright result was highly unlikely. Abrahams, Neal and Gibb all came and went, but with just 12 overs to play Nelson skipper Barnett finally gave up hope of gaining maximum points.
Marlborough captain d'Auvergne was understandably disappointed to lose to Nelson for the third time this season and said it did not go to plan for his side.
"We knew we needed to get among a few of their key batsmen and we had them three down early, but couldn't quite seal the deal.
"Those late partnerships were the killer and the tail wagged.
"The key was to go into the last session with wickets in hand. We needed five or six wickets in hand, with about 100 to 120 to get.
"Not being able to get partnerships going was what cost us, we lost wickets in clumps and that was the difference."
Despite the loss, he believed his team were not out of contention to win zone three and challenge for the Hawke Cup.
"We need three first innings and make two of them into outrights.
"We've got challenges in the past when we've lost the first game on first innings or outright," he said.
Marlborough travel to Greymouth to take on West Coast this weekend.
The Marlborough Express