Like pretenders to the Plunket Shield throne, the Canterbury Kings will be hanging on for dear life when they walk to the crease to dig their toes in on the final day today.
The uprising of the Central Districts Stags had exposed the soft underbelly of the defending champions as they were skittled for 194 in just 64 overs as the visitors enforced a follow-on on the platform of their bolshy first-innings total of 498-7 declared at Hagley Oval, Christchurch, yesterday.
The Kings were still 161 runs shy of eclipsing CD's total at stumps with middle-order batsmen Cole McConchie and Cam Fletcher showing some intestinal fortitude to save some blushes after the top order, again, crumbled in their run chase.
Captain McConchie (56 not out) and wicketkeeper Fletcher (37no) showed they were crease savvy in according more respect to the top-four seamers and first-choice spinners although CD skipper William Young, playing his 50th first-class match, looked outside the square to throw in part-time tweakers George Worker and rookie Brad Schmulian, as well as medium pacer Jesse Ryder to try to break the partnership.
You somehow get the impression it's a matter of when not if the Kings will abdicate in this battle of the four-day war with six wickets in hand after 65 overs in their second innings.
Some divine intervention could help but, it seems, the weather gods will not be persuaded - temperatures will plummet to 15C but a few showers are expected to clear in the morning as southerlies will die in the arvo.
The burning question is whether the Kings will adopt a similar mantra to CD - that is, playing attractive, attacking cricket to ensure there's a result rather than pushing and prodding to eke out a draw on a flat deck as they try to avert the humiliation of an innings defeat on home soil.
The Heinrich Malan-coached Stags matched their maximum batting four points with just as many for bowling but it would be cruel to deny the second-placed team on the Shield ladder another 12 points for an outright result today.
The chief destroyer for the Stags was two-match Black Caps seamer Seth Rance who claimed his third career five-wicket bag (5-32) in Canterbury's first dig.
The 30-year-old right armer from Wairarapa, who made his ODI debut against Ireland in May this year in Dublin and then played against Bangladesh there three days later, said yesterday's milestone was "very satisfying" and the bigger picture was to do it in the red-ball format internationally as well.
"I had a taste of it [white-ball debut] in Ireland so if I can keep putting it on the board you never know but I have to do it for CD first."
Rance said the Stags were in a happy place, mindful they had 96 overs for an outright win.
"We know we're only two wickets away from the tail and if we can get them early it'll be good," he said, emphasising a second new ball would be there for the taking this morning.
The swing merchant said the strip was deteriorating fast so last summer's top wicket-taker, spinner Ajaz Patel, would come into play with the prodigious turn on offer.
"We're quite surprised that Ajaz hasn't gotten any wickets yet because he's bowled very well so [today] he'll be a handful."
The Cantabrians, he said, had shut up shop and weren't taking any risks but CD would hatch new plans to unravel their resolve.
Rance said fellow new-ball opener Doug Bracewell and seamer Bevan Small also swung the ball while Blair Tickner hit the deck straight so that showed they had bowled as a pack.