Cantabs win epic Plunket battle with Firebirds

Last updated 20:05 07/12/2013

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Canterbury have surged to the lead in the Plunket Shield after prevailing over Wellington by 10 runs in a thriller at Rangiora today.

Wellington went agonisingly close to a momentous win in what was a gallant run chase but they were finally dismissed for 459 chasing the mammoth target of 470 to win.

Opener Michael Papps carried his bat throughout the innings and was unbeaten on 183 when he watched in despair as his 10th and last partner, No 11 Brent Arnel, was bowled by Hamish Bennett for 8, the pair having put on 37 for the final wicket.

It was the second highest fourth innings total to lose a first-class match in New Zealand, bettered only by Otago's final dig of 495 when chasing 640 to win a timeless match against Wellington at Carisbrook in 1924.

Had they scored 11 more runs, it would have been the third highest fourth innings total to win a first-class match on these shores. Those two statistics show just how difficult is to score big totals in the final innings of a match, and just how well Wellington played in the last day-and-a half.

Canterbury were ahead for most of the match and even heading into today, with Wellington 187-4, they were odds on to win.

But Papps is in what many would argue is career-best form; the former New Zealand opener came into the match averaging 75 this season and he tallied another 227 runs without being dismissed at Rangiora.

Truth be told he never looked like getting out and you got the sense Canterbury would need to chip away at the other end. They did, but Luke Woodcock (51), Luke Ronchi (43), Jeetan Patel (28) and Mark Gillespie (40) stuck around long enough and added enough runs to ensure the match went to the wire.

Wellington still needed 101 when No 10 Gillespie walked to the crease but his quickfire innings and Arnel's doggedness put Wellington into a position where they could taste victory, only for Bennett to deliver the final blow.

Canterbury's bowlers toiled hard on what wasn't an easy pitch to take wickets, with spinners Todd Astle (3-122) and Tim Johnston (2-72) doing most of the work.

The 12 points for an outright win, plus four bowling points, lifts Canterbury to 37 points, nine clear of second-placed Otago, who had to work hard to deny Northern Districts an unlikely outright win in Whangarei.

After the first two days were washed out, Otago scored 93-6 declared, ND replied with 223-8 declared, and Otago were dismissed for 283, losing their last four wickets for 10 runs to give ND a sniff. The hosts needed 154 runs from 22 overs and were 124-7 when stumps were pulled, Jimmy Neesham taking 5-65.

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In Auckland, where the first two days were also washed out, Central Districts scored 402-7 declared and Auckland replied with 253-4.

- Fairfax Media

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