Canterbury's grip on the Plunket Shield has only tightened halfway through the final round, with the leaders' nearest challengers labouring in their late bids to steal the silverware.

Auckland and Northern Districts both required outright victories this week to have any hope of claiming the title, but both will need to spark revivals tomorrow to keep alive their faint prospects.

In a match plagued by foul weather, Auckland today faltered with the bat and were luckless with the ball in Napier, allowing Central Districts to take control of the clash after two days.

Beginning on 57-3, Colin Munro's half-century was the only innings of significance as Navin Patel took 5-71 and Auckland stumbled to 200-9 declared. The hosts then advanced to 65-1 in reply, leaving them trailing by 135 runs and leaving Auckland in dire need of quick wickets tomorrow morning.


The task facing Northern Districts appears even more monumental, after Anaru Kitchen blasted his maiden first-class double-century to put Otago firmly in charge in Dunedin.

After bringing up his fourth ton of the Plunket Shield season while surpassing his previous highest score on day one, Kitchen started this morning on 141 and continued to flay Northern Districts' attack all around University Oval.

The No 6 raced to 200 from just 233 balls before falling shortly after registering the milestone, captured by Ish Sodhi on 207 as Otago declared on 432-8.

In reply, the visitors enjoyed none of Kitchen's success, ending the day on 162-5 and 270 runs in arrears, with Dean Brownlie's 87 the only real bright spot.

All of which would have left Canterbury feeling rather comfortable in Christchurch. The leaders are facing a battle of their own to earn victory over Wellington but, needing only to match their pursuers' results, they would have been content with a position of parity at the halfway point.

After some lower-order resistance from Todd Astle (70) and Logan van Beek (66) helped Canterbury avoid embarrassment and eventually reach 197, the hosts reduced Wellington to 117-5 at stumps to leave the match in the balance, if not entirely relevant.