The Central Districts Stags have again thrown down the gauntlet this season to show their depth after beating the Canterbury Kings in Nelson despite losing two days of play to rain.
The Stags resumed play on Saturday but had to overcome a pesky tailenders' resolve from the Cantabrians who should be applauded for making a game of it with bold tit-for-tat no-play declarations to find a result in the opening round of the four-day Plunket Shield encounter at Saxton Oval on Saturday.
It was tenterhooks stuff for new skipper Greg Hay, considering it came down to nine balls remaining to remove what seemed to look like a stroll in the park earlier on for the 145-run victory.
"It makes it all that more sweeter when you get the result," said Hay with a chuckle after CD declared at 7/352 after 102.3 overs on the foundation of an unbeaten century, three half tons and No 9 Ryan McCone 20 not out.
He rode the emotional rollercoaster of whether it was going to happen for the Stags who are on the top of the table with better run rate over Northern Districts Knights, coming off an undefeated 2017-18 season.
When CD took the new ball, it had dawned on the 34-year-old anything short of an outright win going to be a heart-breaking exercise in futility.
"To see that last wicket fall was a joyous moment for everyone involved, I think," Hay said, alluding to former Canterbury representative McCone claiming the scalp of No 11 Andrew Hazeldine for 41 runs from 88 deliveries as the visitors' tail wagged. No 10 Will Williams was unbeaten on 28 from 74 balls.
However, the bowling kudos belonged to white-ball Black Caps seamer Seth Rance.
Rance started the 2018-19 season the way he ended last summer — with a five-wicket bag.
The 31-year-old Greytown Fire Brigade station officer claimed 5-53 from 20 overs, including four maidens, to show he can be equally destructive as a swing merchant with the red ball.
"Seth, once he got the wind behind his back, he grew another set of legs and steamed in so he had phenomenal spells," said Hay of Rance's "well-deserved" bag. "He bowled aggressively, bowled short and made things uncomfortable."
The Stags bowlers showed great form, no one going above McCone's 3.13 runs an over.
Black Caps seamer Doug Bracewell and one-cap-old 19-year-old left-arm spinner Felix Murray claimed two scalps each in highlighting the frugality stakes as Hay employed seven bowlers.
Bracewell, the one-day Ford trophy skipper this season, started with a two-wicket maiden.
"It was a fairly flat sort of wicket because once you got in it was fairly easy to stay in," said Hay although CD were mindful making life uncomfortable for fresh batsmen paid dividends because one wicket came with the assurance of clumps.
Earlier yesterday, Willem Ludick had carved up his maiden first-class ton in his second match and first outing at home after making his debut with 30 runs the previous season in round eight.
Ludick, a former Under-19 World Cup representative like Murray and Christian Leopard, of Napier, was unbeaten on 116 runs from 184 balls, including 11 boundaries and a two sixes, in occupying the crease for 267 minutes to suggest the 21-year-old batsmen may go higher up the order if he maintains his form.
Hay described the South African-born and represented Ludick as "a phenomenal talent" who was familiar with Nelson after arriving there almost 18 months ago.
"To see him get a hundred in just his second game is a great effort," he said, highlighting Ludick was a genuine allrounder with a good head on the shoulders of a young man with a promising future.
A blessing to experience it so early, Ludick said it was a dream come true and "surreal" to do it on his home ground.
He revealed that had told someone yesterday only a couple of years he would have been "probably cooked by now" but had come to the realisation there were more important things in life than cricket.
"So cricket's just a part of my life and I just got away from it and as the situation as it is, I couldn't do much about," he said on reflection of sitting out two rain-abandoned days but remaining focused when resuming batting on Friday.
Despite the Kings digging in their toes, he said CD took the oval yesterday in the hope of gleaning the four bonus points.
The most satisfying aspect of the game was mustering 16 points with an outright victory considering many fans weren't expecting the Stags to prevail with five marquee players on NZ A duty with CD coach Heinrich Malan while Englishman and former Stag Ben Smith assumed the mantle of interim coach.
"It shows the depth of Central Districts cricket and we're not just a few individuals who can play [but] we're a big group and the culture's really good so that's what we're about."
Ludick, who arrived in Nelson with fellow Pretorian Evan Jones in late January 2017, hails from a pedigree sporting parents and a grandfather who was a South African boxing representative in the Summer Olympics.
Yesterday he had spoken with his father, playing golf in Pretoria, who congratulated him and revealed such results made it easier for the family to miss the cricketer.
"That's the tough part but, obviously, I've made a few sacrifices in being successful here and the way the boys have been treating me has also been helpful.
"It's an honour to stand up to be the next sportsperson in my family but family comes first and that's what it's about," said Ludick, who sits a run above Otago Volts batsman Hamish Rutherford (115 runs) while Auckland Aces batsman Jeet Raval sits on 102 runs.
Rance sits two wickets fewer in second place, below Volts seamer Neil Wagner's seven scalps after the southerners' eight-wicket loss to the Knights.
Wellington Firebirds and the Aces drew.
CD play the Aces at Eden Park outer oval in round two while the Kings host ND at Hagley Oval and the Firebirds welcome the Volts at the Basin Reserve from Wednesday.