JUST as he did in Napier two weekends ago, Central Districts spinner Ajaz Patel has come to the fore in helping the Stags to try to close out an emphatic victory in Auckland today.
Patel claimed eight wickets over two innings, including a five-wicket bag in the first dig, as the Auckland Aces face a crushing defeat on the final day of the round seven, four-day Plunket Shield match at Eden Park outer oval.
When play resumes today, No 5 Glenn Phillips (15 not out) and No 7 Ben Horne (2no) will be at the crease but it's more likely the heavy rain warning, courtesy of Cyclone Hola, will become the hosts' saviour rather than the remaining five batsmen.
The Aces need another 168 runs to have the William Young-captained Stags pad up again after they were made to follow on from a mammoth first-innings total of 524 runs the visitors posted on Saturday.
Young only managed 21 runs to his unbeaten century from Friday to finish with a stellar knock of 162 to consolidate CD's foundation that Greg Hay (101 runs) had laid on day one with fellow opener George Worker (47).
"Youngy is a class batter and had a very positive approach and played some good shots. He stayed out there and made it count when possibly the bowlers started getting a little tired," Patel said.
No 6 Tom Bruce also made a valuable contribution of 87 runs but will perhaps lament not going on to make his ton.
"Hopefully we won't have to bat again. We have only five more to get so if we pick up one more then we'll be in the tail end to make our job a little easier," said Patel who picked up a five-wicket bag, his 13th first-class one, at McLean Park in the six-wicket win over the Otago Volts the previous weekend.
"Glenn's played quite steadily and he's just looking at occupying the crease, to be honest. They haven't really shown too much intent so we're not too worried about the runs but just to get back out there and take five more wickets."
Auckland were skittled for 204 in their first dig with Phillips the mainstay for 63 runs and Robbie O'Donnell backing him up with 41.
CD paceman Adam Milne had rattled the furniture of danger man Jeet Raval, the Black Caps test opener, for 20 runs before Ben Wheeler had his measure in the second innings for a four-ball duck.
"He [Raval] is an important cog in the wheel and he is a person, if he can get himself in, who can occupy [the crease] to play a long innings but Milney got him in the first innings and Wheels got one to climb down leg side of him and, to be fair, Smudger took a brilliant catch," said Patel of makeshift wicketkeeper Ben Smith who is in for injured Dane Cleaver.
The benign batting strip wasn't doing too much but Patel said it was, no doubt, more receptive to spin perhaps than seam bowlers although that didn't detract from how adept the quickies were in stifling the batsmen.
"It's doing enough. The odd one is spitting and then the other is sort of carrying on."
He said it took a bit more turn towards the end of the day after spurning bowlers' advances earlier in the day.
The 31-year-old said it was simply a game of patience for him while the seamers gave them a hurry up from the other end.
"Overall, we've bowled really well as a unit with the seamers running in all day. It's not that easy because the wicket's not offering a hell of a lot so they did a good job in charging in and trying a few things which came our way."
Test bowler Doug Bracewell was up there with Patel in the frugality stakes at 1.85 runs an over for a wicket. Wheeler and Milne have claimed a scalp each while Manawatu seamer Bevan Small is making the most of his time in the absence of Seth Rance with two wickets.
Patel said the wicket was definitely in his favour but it was just a matter of picking a few quick scalps this morning.
The Heinrich Malan-coached visitors kept their foot on the throat of the hosts despite the lack of intent from the batsmen.
"I think we've been quite attacking the whole day. We haven't had too many sweepers out. It just seems they haven't been willing to take too many risks.
"It's been kind of, you know, where they've been playing it very still. They haven't shown too much intent and too much positivity."
Conversely CD were able to settle in well to find a modicum of rhythm to mount pressure through dot balls which eventually yielded wickets.
Patel's haul, even if there's no play today, should push him to the top of the most-wickets ladder to keep him in the hunt for his third consecutive season title in the format.
It would have been great to be in the mix with the New Zealand XI with Rance, Bracewell and Worker in the two-day pink and red ball warm-up matches against England in hamilton starting on Wednesday, he said.
"It would have been nice to have that opportunity to see what I can do against an international opposition but, unfortunately, it's not to be so I'll carry on trying to take more wickets to keep my name out there."