It was the best innings by Air Chathams Wanganui in a generation, as the reinforced side had secured both first innings and batting bonus points while they hunted for a late outright win against Wairarapa at a sun-baked Victoria Park today.
Having lost the toss on Saturday and naturally been put into field on a batsmen's wicket that was offering little except a little turn, Wanganui showed patience and guile to deny Wairarapa the mandatory 300 runs, bowling them out for 279 after a long and hot 88.5 overs.
Despite a few anxious moments with wickets falling at the end of Saturday and start of today's play, Wanganui batted through to an excellent 385-8 declared, stopping short of their first 400 plus score in 12 years to have another crack at an exhausted Wairarapa, who had fielded for 97 overs without a 12th man to rotate when spinner Daniel Ingham (3-24) was injured after bowling 10 straight overs on Saturday evening.
Professional Ben Smith showed graft to bat out Saturday, and was then majestic in the latter part of his innings on Sunday afternoon, scoring a brilliant 122 to put his name on the honours board once again with eleven boundaries and three sixes.
In his 100th match, the returning Mark Fraser was in fine fettle and smacked 64 at nearly a run a ball until being dismissed in contentious circumstances from a caught behind dismissal that Wanganui was convinced did not carry to the keeper.
Moved down the order to accommodate the returning veteran batsmen, Wanganui's wicketkeeper Matt Simes (54 not out) shelved his conservative style to swiftly hit seven boundaries before the visitors put the field back and he switched to singles, with Wanganui sailing past their first innings target of 280, and going on to a rare 300 and still not stopping till they were 107 ahead.
Skipper Dominic Lock chose to forgo his earlier plan of batting all day to call Simes and Nick Harding in to see if they could have a crack at an outright win with 35 overs remaining and no chance of defeat.
Earlier on Saturday, young spinner Dylan Martin came in under considerable pressure for his debut, being required as the main strike bowler with his team missing the mid-air swing of Ross Kinnerley, while the remaining pace bowlers could extract little out a "road" pitch.
Martin responded brilliantly, sending down 23 overs where only the in-form Jaco Vorster (85) was able to get a hold of him, finishing with 5-67 and only just missing the honours board himself.
Chris Stewart (3-48) trundled the ball in tight and was rewarded with several key wickets, including the match-changing dismissal of Vorster right before the afternoon drinks when he snuck the ball through half an inch gap between bat and pad to clip the top of the stumps.
Martin got the last two wickets to wrap up the innings and give Wanganui a decided advantage, with Lock having rotated eight bowlers through short spells and swapping ends to help maintain concentration and accuracy despite the heat.
After Wairarapa openers Robbie Anderson (63) and Anthony Sprowson (30) were able to work the ball around, their team scoring slowly at under three an over but proving hard to dismiss, Martin and Stewart were able to remove both men, while Smith (2-41) also struck to have the visitors 108-4 at lunch.
Vorster then carried on with Ingham (39) for a quick 50 run partnership, having a real battle with Martin who would often cramp him for room, but once an over would miss his length and be sent to the boundary.
Yet Martin never panicked and when the ball was returned to him the next delivery would be on the money again.
That proved crucial in the 64th over as Vorster had to watch both Ingham and then Gordon Reisima be dismissed in the space of three balls by Martin for 198-5.
Patrick Gluck (34 not out) survived a couple of close calls to help Vorster guide them close to 250 with batting bonus points on the horizon.
Stewart clipping Vorster's bail put paid to that at 247-6, as Martin and Smith then managed to strand Gluck by chipping out the lower order over the next 13 overs for just 32 runs, leaving them well short of a good score in those conditions.
However, Wanganui had a mini-collapse of their own in the nervous 20 overs at the end of the day, with Dominic Rayner and Lock dismissed by consecutive balls for 13-2 in the fourth over bowled by Ingham, while the incoming John McIlraith (32) was fortunate to survive an LBW shout on the hat trick delivery.
McIlraith was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth and attacked with seven boundaries in the 40 balls he faced, despite Ingham also dismissing Stewart (20), while Smith prepared for a long anchor innings as he negotiated 34 balls for just seven runs to get his team through the day at 64-3.
That want became a need for Smith this morning with McIlraith dismissed by specialist bowler Peter Sigvertsen (3-92) off the second ball he faced, with the knowledge Wanganui's own bowler Martin would have to bat given Zac O'Keefe was a late withdrawal from the game to attend a funeral.
Fraser joined Smith and the pair were a joy to watch as the run rate began climbing at 178-4 after 49 overs, with Fraser reaching his 50 before the supporting Smith and aggressively swatting the ball several times to the shorter left side boundary from the clubrooms end.
At 195-4 with 300 now looking like a cruise, Fraser was frustrated to be given out after a short umpire conference for a nick he never thought carried.
Gill (27) then joined Smith, who took over as the dominant partner, his six off Anderson breaking the shackles somewhat at 215-6 at lunchtime.
Smith carried on despite losing Gill and then Akhil Kumar (12) to raise his outstanding century, with Simes getting away to a flyer, before he and Harding were working it around after a tired Sigvertsen finally had Smith.
"I don't recall [an innings] as high as this in a long time," said team manager Andrew Lock.
Having studied the bonus point system, the carrot of stealing a late outright win raised the prospect Wanganui could even finish as high as second on the Furlong Cup points table, depending on other results.
"That is also something I don't recall [Wanganui] being up there," Lock said.
Skipper Dominic Lock said it was worth a go to see if they could pick up quick wickets, setting Martin and Gill at Wairarapa's opening pair.
He praised the batting of Smith, Fraser and Simes.
"They just hit the bad balls for four and played the good ones as they needed to.
"A quick outfield, get it through the gaps and you're away."
Wairarapa 1st Innings
R Anderson b D Martin 63
A Sporeson ct J McIlraith b C Stewart 30
J Osborne b B Smith 4
J Forrester lbw b C Stewart 5
J Vorster b C Stewart 85
D Ingham ct & b D Martin 39
G Reisima ct D Lock b D Martin 0
P Gluck not out 34
C Jackson lbw b B Smith 2
C Freeman b D Martin 2
Q Childs b D Martin 6
Total: 279 (88.5 overs).
Bowling: A Gill 12 overs, 4 maidens, 31 runs, 0 wickets; A Kumar 8-2-27-0; D Rayner 5-0-25-0; N Harding 7-1-34-0; C Stewart 19.3-5-48-3; B Smith 14-3-41-2; D Martin 23-8-67-5; J McIlraith 0.3-0-1.
Wanganui 1st Innings: 385-8 declared (97 overs): Smith 122, M Fraser 64, M Simes 54no, J McIlraith 32, A Gill 27, C Stewart 20; D Ingham 3-24, P Sigvertsen 3-92). Further scoreboard unavailable.