Despite finishing the final match of the first-class season with a loss, Canterbury has this afternoon claimed the Plunket Shield for the third time in four years — but they were made to sweat over it until the very last over of the summer.
The season championship came down to the final 10 minutes of the first-class summer further north in Napier, where defending champions the Auckland Aces — requiring an outright to lift the Shield — had the Central Stags seven down at McLean Park as Wellington Firebirds Hamish Marshall (105 not out) and Tom Blundell (63 not out) strolled off Hagley Oval to celebrate their seven-wicket win.
After a dew-delayed start in the opening session of the day, Aces captain Rob Nicol had declared seven down at McLean Park, setting the Stags a target of 301 to win. However, the impetus of George Worker’s sixth first-class century (130 off 144 balls) helped the Stags take control of the chase before going on to seal the three-wicket win that ensured the Shield would go to Canterbury.
Central Stags off-spinner Ajaz Patel finished as the Plunket Shield’s leading wicket-taker for the second season in succession, taking one further wicket on the final day to end with a season haul of 44 from nine matches, one better than his collection of 43 in 2015/16.
Auckland Aces leg-spinner Tarun Nethula was also in the hunt in the final session, but would have to be content with runner-up position, finishing with 43 wickets from 10 matches, while fellow leg-spinner Ish Sodhi rounded out the top three with 40 victims from just seven matches after having claimed two seven-wicket bags on the home straight, including 11 wickets and a career best in Northern Districts’ final round in Dunedin.
Sodhi’s efforts had helped Northern Districts finish second on the season table, just two points behind the champions, both sides finishing with four outrights. The Auckland Aces’ loss in Napier meanwhile saw them bumped down by ND to third. The Firebirds finished fourth, and Central Stags fifth after winning their final two matches of the season.
Despite their side finishing last on the table, Otago Volts captain Brad Wilson (730 runs from 10 matches at 45.62) and Anaru Kitchen (695 runs from just six matches at 63.18) headed the Auckland Aces’ Colin Munro (685 from six matches at 85.62) as the leading run-scorers. Both Kitchen and Munro finished with four first-class centuries in the season, the most by any player.
Canterbury captain Andrew Ellis scored his ninth first-class century on the final day of the season before his nervous wait for the title.