Young Black Caps batting star Kane Williamson guided Northern Districts to their first Plunket Shield victory of the season yesterday, keeping alive their slim hopes of retaining their title.
Backing up the standout first-innings efforts of fellow international Tim Southee, Williamson hit a superb unbeaten 121 off 142 balls in 176 minutes in the second innings as the Knights chased down the required 196 to beat Wellington at Karori Park in Wellington by six wickets.
Williamson hit 11 fours and two sixes, finally finding a partner in James Marshall (36 not out) to take them through to victory at 196-4. The final target was higher than the Knights originally anticipated - after they made the home side follow on the previous day - thanks to a second century in the match to Wellington wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi (108) and 83 from young former Hamilton Boys' High all-rounder Scott Kuggeleijn. "It was a niggly little total that we needed to chase down," Knights coach Grant Bradburn said.
"We knew it was a very good cricket wicket and we had full trust in the surface, and we had enough time to chase them down, but 193 was quite a few more than it potentially could have been at the start of the day."
Despite Wellington putting on 390 in their second turn at bat, Bradburn was still full of praise for his bowlers as well as his batsmen with Williamson the undoubted star of the day.
"Kane played a very good knock and while he was at the wicket that total was never in doubt. We had a few guys miss out but we did have a couple of valuable partnerships - Flynny [Derek Flynn] and Kane  , BJ [Watling] and Kane , and then finally James [Marshall] and Kane . They all played valuable knocks and James came in and took the pressure off Kane to run it down, but Kane played beautifully."
Despite Williamson's innings, the star of the match still had to be Southee with his 156 in the first innings batting at No 8 and his five-wicket bag afterwards to help force Wellington to follow on.
The Knights have a few days off now until their next HRV Cup Twenty20 match against Auckland in Auckland on Boxing Day and don't resume their Plunket Shield campaign until late next month, but while the whites and red balls are put away they have not lost sight of their quest to win back-to-back four-day titles.
"We won the competition last year with four outright victories and we know from winning four of the first six last year and not being able to win the Plunket Shield until the final game, so we know how tough it is to stop a team on a roll," Bradburn said.
"All it takes is a bit of belief to get on a bit of a roll and any team that wins two or three in a row is going to be competitive. We play every other team and we still have the opportunity to be there at the sharp end of the season.
"Obviously it's going to take some good cricket post-Christmas but we know we're well capable of that."
- Waikato Times