Bay of Plenty defended the Hawke Cup for the second time in this tenure after they easily brushed aside the challenge from Canterbury Country in the three-day game that finished early at Bay Oval yesterday.
The Bay batted superbly in their first innings to make 559 and the visitors struggled through to be all out for 263 by early afternoon yesterday when the game was called off.
The win means the Bay need one more good result in the final challenge in a fortnight to become the most successful team in the province's history.
Early indications that the Canterbury Country team were not overly confident came at the toss on Friday when captain David Fulton, brother of test opener Peter Fulton, called correctly and surprisingly asked the Bay to bat on a flat wicket.
Openers Peter Drysdale and Joe Carter settled in with a solid stand of 69 before Drysdale was bowled for 23, which brought Bharat Popli to the crease and the Bay's record century maker quickly hit three boundaries to get underway. He and Carter put on 89 runs before Carter's patient innings ended when he lost his off-stump on 84, which included 11 boundaries.
Fresh out of Tauranga Boys' College, 18-year-old Tom MacRury settled into a fine partnership with the strokemaker Popli and handled everything the increasingly frustrated Canterbury Country bowlers could throw at him. He played several of his trademark straight drives for boundaries and was the perfect foil for Popli, who helped himself to the buffet bowling to bring up his sixth century for the Bay before he was out two balls later for an even 100.
Scott Steward began another profitable partnership with MacRury, who brought up his half century off 100 balls including 10 fours, and was 69 not out at stumps with the Bay in charge at 300-3. Next morning MacRury was lbw in the first over to end the first of many important innings to come for the Bay, and the Canterbury Country bowlers then snared Brett Hampton (18) to briefly come back into the game.
But new batsman Mitch McCann stroked the ball effortlessly from the start of his innings and put together a telling partnership of 116 with Steward, before the left-hander was adjudged lbw just eight runs short of a maiden century for Bay of Plenty.
McCann went on to make 76 and wicketkeeper Tim Clarke 64 - both personal highest scores at this level - before the Bay were all out for 559. The contest was well and truly over at stumps on Saturday night with Canterbury Country 95/4 after early wickets to Sean Davey, Tony Goodin and Tommy Clout.
Steward, at 28 the oldest member of the youthful Bay team, was pleased with his innings of 92 that lasted 213 minutes, but also frustrated he was so close to the magic milestone.
"The first feeling was one of disappointment but I am still pretty proud of how I did and the runs I got in the situation we were in," said Steward. "We had lost a few early wickets so I needed to bat through which is what I did."
The Cadets batsman has waited a long time to get his chance in the Bay team which he puts down to finally scoring consistently well.
"I think I have figured out my game a bit more recently which has made a big difference. I was always capable of getting runs but never allowed myself to get runs - it is just a head thing.
"I broke into the team last year and won the Fergus Hickey with the boys, which was a pretty good start, and it has been good to secure my place and contribute," he said.
"The feeling in the team to keep the Hawke Cup is really strong and the environment in the team this year has been really, really good. We love spending time together and we love winning."
Wicketkeeper Clarke was happy to have made his highest score for the Bay in his 25th match, for which the 25-year-old was presented with the sought-after baggy blue Bay cap.
"It is awesome to represent your province and this is probably the highest level of cricket I am going to get the opportunity to play, so it is great to bring up milestones," said Clarke. "Seeing the other boys with the baggies, I know it means a lot to them so to join that party is great. I don't normally get a chance to bat in the longer forms of the game so to finally step up in a three-day game is good."
Bay of Plenty face a final challenge of the season from the Hawke Cup Zone Four winners (out of Southland, Otago Country, North Otago, South Canterbury and Mid-Canterbury) at Smallbone Park, Rotorua, from March 8-10. Northern Districts play Canterbury in a Ford Trophy game at Bay Oval on Sunday, March 10.
Bay of Plenty vs Canterbury Country February 22-24, Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui Bay of Plenty First Innings 559 (B Popli 100, S Steward 92, J Carter 84, M McCann 76, T MacRury 69, T Clarke 64) Canterbury Country 263 (T Goodin 3-63, B Hampton 2-42, T Clout 2-36) Bay of Plenty won on first innings and retain the Hawke Cup.