With the Canterbury Kings done and dusted within three days, the undefeated Central Districts Stags now turn their attention to the final fling of the summer next week.
"Our fate's in our own hands so we control what happens from here," said CD bowler Ajaz Patel after collecting his 14th first-class, five-wicket bag in helping crush the Cantabrians by an innings and 58 runs in the penultimate round of the Plunket Shield match at McLean Park, Napier, yesterday.
The William Young-captained Stags have a slim four-point lead, leapfrogging the Wellington Firebirds, who succumbed by an innings and 56 runs to the Northern Districts Knights in just two days at the Basin Reserve.
CD now host the Knights at McLean Park for the final round to see who pockets $75,000 in the competition.
"It's good to be in that position because we don't have to worry about what the other results are at this stage, as long as we play good cricket in the last round," said Patel, whose seven wickets in the match saw him reclaim his perch as the leading wicket-taker this summer with 42 wickets from eight rounds after missing the previous round while representing a New Zealand XI against England.
The 29-year-old is on track for a treble as the top wicket-taker in the four-day, red-ball domestic competition.
"This is the [shield] the boys have wanted to win most at the start of the season. We spoke about it in the pre-season because we believe it's one of the hardest to win."
Patel said it helped the Cantabrians were mindful they couldn't play any reckless shots so that kept all bar one Stags bowler's figures below the three runs an over mark in Canterbury's second dig.
"They went into their shell a little bit and we just kept applying the pressure and kept going at them."
Black Caps test seamer Doug Bracewell went for 3.09 an over after taking 2-50 from 16 overs, including five maidens.
Patel said the visitors had batted well in the morning despite the first-ball run out.
However, Canterbury captain Cole McConchie and No 5 Ken McClure forged a decent partnership to perish any thoughts of a walk in the park.
"They hung on and kept testing us so we kind of got one and we knew that from there on they have a long tail because they didn't have as strong a Canterbury as they have had in the past.
"We knew we were in the game if we had got another two so we weren't worried because we knew it was going to happen pretty quickly after that."
He singled out maiden first-innings, five-wicket bag man Blair Tickner who went for under a run an over (0.88) yesterday to finish with the figures of 1-15 from 17 overs, including 10 maidens.
"And then I just happened to bowl one of my best balls of the season to get Ken McClure," said the left-arm orthodox spinner who claimed 67-5 in the second dig to finish with seven scalps in the match.
"It pitched about leg stump and took the top off so it was a great delivery," said the beaming Aucklander, who plays for You Travel Taradale CC premier men before the domestic season starts and also represents the Pay Excellence Hawke's Bay senior men's representative team.
With the seamers relentless from the other end and the wicket taking some turn, the Stags knew they had the game in the bag with a day to spare.
"It was another very good wicket. It probably turned a little earlier than we all expected but it didn't do anything ridiculous to be fair."
CD, he said, simply played some good cricket and didn't deviate from coach Heinrich Malan's blueprint.
McConchie lauded the Stags' bowling, revealing the Canterbury batsmen endured immense pressure at times prompting them into making mistakes at crucial times.
"Hats off to the way they bowled with the way they just kept coming at us with attack and kept the pressure coming," said McConchie, who led by example at No 4 with 63 runs from 144 balls, including six boundaries, in the second innings after coming in when debutant Jeff Chase was run out for three runs off the first ball of the morning when play resumed on the overnight total of 58/2.
He agreed the Kings' game turned pear shaped in their first innings when they were skittled for 97 runs in just 39.4 overs.
"I mean the way Ticks bowled and that in the night session the other day sort of really put us on the back foot so we didn't really help ourselves there and we were way behind the game after the first innings so it was always going to be bloody tough to claw our way back into it."
McConchie said the Gary Stead-coached troops fought well yesterday but they just had to keep getting better.
He said they had arrived at McLean Park in a good frame of mind after posting 485/6 at the Mainpower Oval, Rangiora, in round eight in a tempestuous affair against the Auckland Aces amid allegations of "negative batting" which ended in umpires abandoning the match over player safety.
They enjoyed playing on head groundsman Phil Stoyanoff's strip of prime real estate at McLean Park although he emphasised Canterbury had no qualms with the Rangiora wicket.
"It was a good wicket here. It had pace and some assistance at the start and then some turn but if you look across the three days then you'll see if the batters had applied themselves they could have had success.
"I think it was a good cricket wicket but we were just outplayed on it," McConchie said.