Stead left scratching his head after loss

Canterbury will play off this week to avoid the Plunket Shield's wooden spoon after another loss.

The Wizards were beaten by four wickets by competition leaders Central Districts at Rangiora's Mainpower Oval yesterday, the visitors finding it too easy to chase down a target of 259.

Coach Gary Stead did his best to put on a brave face, but he is clearly frustrated with his side after it again put itself in a strong position, then balked when it mattered.

"Every single [Plunket Shield] match, of the nine we've played, we've been in a position to be competitive if not ahead after two innings," Stead said.

"Then the same thing happens, we let it slip. I'm not sure what it is, but we're just not winning the key moments."

Central have made a habit of winning key moments all year and that was how they won this match.

A splendid 135 not out from Dean Brownlie on Saturday should have helped Canterbury set Central a huge day-four target.

He put on valuable partnerships of 62 with Henry Nicholls and 135 with Shanan Stewart before a capitulation that left Stead lost for words.

From 234-4 and a lead of 237, Canterbury were all out for 255.

In the space of eight balls, Stewart, Todd Astle and Ben McCord were all caught behind, although McCord's decision did look a tough one.

The tail then crumbled and the big dent to the Wizards' confidence caused a hangover in the field.

Central openers Jeet Raval and Jamie How put on 145 for the first wicket to effectively end the match as a contest.

"It just took us too long to find the right areas," Stead said.

Three late wickets on the third day gave Canterbury a sniff but Mathew Sinclair's 68th first-class half-century yesterday sealed the win.

The Wizards have one final game, against Auckland, starting on Wednesday at Hagley Oval.

After an emphatic loss to Otago in Dunedin, Auckland are also stuck at the bottom of the table and low on both form and luck.

Like Canterbury, they will be using the match to earn respect and to gain momentum for the one-day competition which begins next Tuesday.

Otago are the only team who can catch Central after thrashing Auckland by 10 wickets while Northern Districts, in third, had a five-wicket win over Wellington in Whangarei, but because Central won, their hopes of defending the title have now gone.

Meanwhile, Canterbury are expected to name a similar team for the final four-day match.

Brad Cachopa is still recovering from a shoulder injury and the medical team will wait to see how he shapes up after a net session yesterday before making a decision on his availability.

Matt Henry has picked up niggles to his hip and groin and will not come back as previously hoped.

He could now miss the start of the one-day competition while the rest of the injured Canterbury bowlers are still aiming at a return for the 50-over competition.

The Press