Did the Central Districts Stags win the toss and make the right decision to bat first?

Absolutely, if you ask Doug Bracewell, who ruled out any speculation that the Cobham Oval wicket in Whangarei had played a part in unravelling the top order of the Devon Hotel-sponsored Stags, who crashed to an eight-wicket loss to Sky City Northern Districts Knights yesterday.

"It [the pitch] wasn't at all. It was a nice surface and they bowled well on it first up," said the 25-year-old Black Caps seamer who top scored for the visitors at No6 with 80 runs from 103 balls, including five boundaries and two sixes.

Bracewell, who came in after the Knights had served eviction notices to the top five batsmen within 14 overs, went on to save the blushes of the Heinrich Malan-coached CD.

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The Best United Travel Taradale CC allrounder established a record seventh-wicket partnership against ND with Ben Wheeler, who scored 53 off 79 balls before falling prey to the legspin of Black Cap Ish Sodhi.

The previous best alliance of 59 belonged to Tony Blain and Gary Robertson in 1987-88.

"It was nice to have time in the middle but I'd really like to have taken it to the end," he lamented, echoing the mantra of Malan that his predominantly young charges have failed to find at least one player to push their totals into three figures.

It was Bracewell's best List A score, two better than his previous one.

Ditto "unlucky" Wheeler, returning from injury for a wicket-less spell with the ball, eclipsing his previous best knock of 39 not out.

Bracewell said defending champions CD had succumbed to pressure, "falling short by plenty", after winning the toss, although they did claw their way back into the innings to give themselves a fighting chance.

"It was not in the plan to lose early wickets but you have to give credit to the ND bowlers," he said. The Stags were pretty upbeat at the innings break of defending their 224 all out in 48.5 overs provided they bowled to the right channels and length.

"We got two wickets early to give ourselves a sniff but they played smart cricket." That astute batting came in the form of a record third-wicket partnership for ND against CD between Anton Devcich (99no) and Dean Brownlie (107no).

CD play Canterbury Kings away on Sunday.