Plunket Shield, day 4
Eden Park, Auckland
Good things take time - just ask discarded New Zealand cricket captain Ross Taylor.
"I would have liked to have scored a few more runs to help the boys out but we've had a win in a first-class match and we have two games to go," Taylor said on Saturday after helping his table-topping Devon Hotel Central Districts Stags beat the Auckland Aces by 191 runs at Eden Park No 2, despite adding only 21 runs in each innings.
The victory was gob-smackingly stunning considering the hosts were widely perceived to be on the front foot.
Even the most zealous of CD supporters would have, at best, given the Alan Hunt-coached Stags a fighting chance to eke out a stalemate going into the final day's play after an anaemic first-innings.
Instead, captain Kieran Noema-Barnett and his troops showed how potent the power of self-belief can be.
For Taylor the turning point was in the morning when wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk and Doug Bracewell resumed to take Friday night's 270-run lead to 341 before Noema-Barnett declared at 457-7 in 140 overs.
"On day one we looked like we were going to be rolled for 150 or 160 but we scraped our way to 230 odd," Taylor reflected, emphasising he would have liked to have added a few more runs but, nevertheless, delirious with the result.
In the first innings, Noema-Barnett's 67 and No 11 Kyle Jarvis' 45 all had a cumulative effect over four days in an admirable never-say-die attitude.
Manawatu seamer Bevan Small's career-best, five-wicket haul on day two helped restrict the Aces to 348 and put a spring in the steps of the Stags' second innings.
Enter openers Jamie How and Jeet Raval who forged a CD record first-wicket partnership of 173 against Auckland, eclipsing the previous mark by a run as veteran How went on to carve his 15th first-class century.
On the final day, after No 7 Van Wyk's unbeaten 58, including nine boundaries, and No 8 Bracewell's 77, including 11 fours and two sixes, CD skittled the Paul Strang-coached Aces for 151 runs in 40 overs for an outright victory to keep second-placed Otago Volts at a comfortable distance with two games remaining.
Hopkins top scored with 43 runs before feathering a delivery to Van Wyk's gloves while rookie opener Michael Guptill-Bunce added 29 on the heels of a career-high 47 in Auckland's first dig.
A sterling 6-55, from 13 overs and including two maidens, from legspinner Tarun Nethula plotted the demise of the Aucklanders.
It was Nethula's third six-wicket haul in an innings but shy of his career-best 6-32 against Otago last summer.
In keeping with the team mantra, the former Black Cap attributed his success to the efforts of Small (2-35), Jarvis (1-31) and Bracewell (1-30).
He also lauded the batting effort.
"We have a lot of Black Caps so they've done a decent job to put pressure on Auckland," Nethula said.
"In the second innings Howser, Jeets and Chops, batted well.
"Many people were expecting us 250 to 270 ahead but Dougie and Krugs made a quick 70 odd to create something we could bowl to."
Nethula, who was dropped from the Black Caps squad after an awkward tour that for the most part turned him into excess luggage from the West Indies to Sri Lanka, didn't think the wicket offered too much traction for spin.
"Only the odd one was off the street but there was some good bounce," he said, adding Bracewell, Jarvis and Small had done remarkably well to stifle Auckland on Saturday on a wicket that started panning out after the first day.
"For Jarvie and Dougie to keep the deficit to 115 was the most crucial part," says the player who sits in fifth spot on the most-wickets table of the shield competition with 20 scalps, one behind Mark Gillespie.
CD seamer Andrew Mathieson is eighth top bowler, equal on 17 wickets but below Neil Wagner on average.
Carl Cachopa is the top-scoring first-class batsman on 735 runs, ahead of Aaron Redman on 708 and brother Craig Cachopa on 652.
CD master batsman Mathew Sinclair is ninth on 546 runs.
The Stags have a week off before playing the Gary Stead-coached Canterbury Wizards at Mainpower Oval, Rangiora, from Thursday.
CD's final fling will be against the Northern Districts Knights at Saxton Oval, Nelson, from January 20.
In the other matches which ended yesterday, Canterbury repulsed Wellington's charge to scrape home by 20 runs at the Basin Reserve and Otago crushed ND by eight wickets in Queenstown.
The Firebirds began the day on 13-0 in pursuit of 384 for victory with Harry Boam called in on the final day as a replacement player for Luke Ronchi, who flew to Whangarei to join the New Zealand XI ahead of their two Twenty20 games against England starting today.
Wellington tail-ender Gillespie slashed his way to 63 but seamer Ryan McCone stopped the rot.
Canterbury spinners Roneel Hira and Todd Astle combined to take six wickets, while McCone ended with 3-26.