Opportunity to show some guts with the bat

Canterbury's under-performing batsmen have the perfect opportunity to show the mettle that's been missing most of the first-class cricket season today.

Their bowlers worked hard for parity on day one of their Plunket Shield match against Central Districts in Napier yesterday - even dismissing the returning Ross Taylor cheaply - and on a batsmen-friendly McLean Park deck, it's time for several struggling batsmen to score some runs when the side resumes this morning at 1-1 in reply to CD's 303-8 declared.

All the hype around Taylor's return led to not much as a clever piece of bowling by the impressive Ryan McCone cut the former Black Caps skipper's innings off at just four.

The importance of Taylor's wicket for Canterbury wasn't lost on a clearly pleased McCone even if the 70-person crowd, most of whom were only there to see Taylor bat, were disappointed.

It was a mixed day for Canterbury who, apart from one partnership stayed on top of CD.

Mathew Sinclair and Kruger van Wyk added 134 for the sixth wicket before being removed on consecutive balls.

Sinclair and Canterbury all-rounder Andrew Ellis have history, but when Ellis struck Sinclair in front, he was so obviously out, the former Black Cap walked.

McCone was easily Canterbury's best with the ball taking 3-55 from 20 probing overs.

He unsettled Taylor with a bouncer which Taylor swung at, then was removed the next ball to a delivery angled across him that he couldn't help but prod at.

The ball was good but one gets the feeling an in-form Taylor would have kept it out.

"I thought Ryan was very good today," Canterbury skipper Peter Fulton said.

"In fact, in all the Plunket Shield games he's played this season he's impressed me."

Another standout with the ball and most definitely a more surprising one, was Shanan Stewart. In 83 previous first-class matches, Stewart had taken just six wickets at 73.33.

Yesterday, filling the role of a fourth seamer, he picked up the crucial wickets of Carl Cachopa and half-century maker Jeet Raval.

Matt McEwan also grabbed two wickets including a very tidy caught and bowled off a powerful Kieran Noema-Barnett drive.

So the scene is set for Canterbury's top and middle order to set the game up for their side, though they did lose opener George Worker in the 2.1 overs they were forced to bat before bad light curtailed play early.

Fulton, who's been easily the side's best with the bat this season, said he and coach Gary Stead had talked to the batsmen about stepping up, but expected they were all well aware of what's expected of them.

"McLean Park tends to get easier to bat on . . . but we need to go out and do a solid job tomorrow."

In the other matches, Northern Districts have the advantage after truly bizarre opening day against Auckland in Hamilton.

Auckland were sent in and were reeling at 36-5 when debutant Dusan Hakaraia came to the crease. The 29-year-old then blazed 141 from 142 balls to help Auckland through to 240. As brilliant as Hakaraia was ND's Anurag Verma. Playing his first full first-class game for ND Verma took 7-82 from 19 overs. ND reached stumps at 152-1 with Daniel Flynn pushing his case to open for the national test side with an unbeaten 78.

Otago are well placed in their game against Wellington in Dunedin. Wellington scored 254 after being asked to bat and Otago reached stumps at 139-1. Opener Hamish Rutherford will resume this morning on 90, 10 shy of his fourth first-class century.

The Press