For the second Furlong Cup season in a row, Unreal Grass Cricket Wanganui came less than 30 runs short of picking up first innings points over neighbours Manawatu after a lower order collapse brought a solid team chase to an abrupt close on this afternoon.
Despite facing a daunting 365-5 declared by Manawatu on Saturday, after former New Zealand Under 19 batsman Arana Noema-Barnett had amassed an outstanding 177 against a bowling attack lacking game time, Wanganui did not go into their shells at Fitzherbert Park.
There were contributions up and down the order, led by a superb 103 from allrounder Akash Gill in scoring his first century for Wanganui.
However, in sight of the promised land by early Sunday afternoon at 330-6, Wanganui lost their last four wickets for just 10 runs to hand Manawatu the advantage with not enough time left to change the outcome off the remaining 44 overs of the day.
That didn't stop Wanganui trying, as captain-coach Vikum Sanjaya took his first two wickets for Wanganui to help reduce the home side to 19-3, including getting the satisfaction of dismissing the match-winner Noema-Barnett for six.
However, as Manawatu batted out of trouble for 81-4 in 22 overs, leaving Wanganui unlikely to force a result, the match was conceded.
Missing first innings points by just 25 runs was a similar story, although a different construction, to last year when Wanganui were 24 runs short in a damp game dominated by the bowlers – on that occasion Manawatu defending 157.
Still, Wanganui manager Andrew Lock was pleased with the fight shown in the side, with just a few bad decisions in shot selection right at the crux point costing them, even though Manawatu did force the errors by bowling well.
"365 is a massive total to chase down. In the past, we could have been all out for 100, but now we're not like that.
"If those 30's could have been pushed for 50's, it would have been a different story.
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"A couple of rash shots at the end. Some went through the gaps, and some didn't go through the gaps."
On Saturday, Manawatu looked to start positively, but Ross Kinnerley (2-57) removing openers Whetu Na Nagara and Mason Hughes gave them pause at 32-2.
That pause didn't last long, as Trent Mcgrath (72) combined with Noema-Barnett to raise a 150 partnership over the next 40 overs – Wanganui rotating seven bowlers but unable to find an answer.
Gill bowled a tight 15 overs, including four maidens, and finally got one through to Mcgrath's stumps, but that just brought in Floyd Na Nagara (64 not out) to support the red hot Noema-Barnett.
His 177 off 222 bowls including 30 boundaries and a six, and could well end up being the highest score of this Furlong competition, given it was 23 runs more than the largest score of last season.
Non-batting spinner Dylan Martin found his second game for Wanganui a lot harder than his first, but finally had Noema-Barnett caught out by Greg Smith after a long 79 overs.
Having raised his 100 with a 16th boundary, in 170 balls, the batsman had then cut loose with 14 more boundaries to rapidly bring up his next 70 runs.
"Early on [the pitch] was doing things, but it was good batting and he batted well," said Lock.
"Some of [the bowlers] hadn't played any games and some had played one game."
Manawatu lost one more wicket running up another quick 24 runs in the next couple of overs to make their 4pm declaration and look to catch Wanganui out in the awkward dusk section of the afternoon.
Initially it worked, as Wanganui slumped to 19-2 with Dominic Rayner bowled and then Sam Sherriff trapped in front on the next delivery by Carlos Jensen (5-87).
However, Wanganui pulled it back as Smith (62) combined with Akil Kumar (61) to bat out the day, with Smith the stonewall and Kumar still playing his shots for a fine recovery at 96-2.
"I don't recall any chances that they gave," said Lock of the partnership.
Recognising they still had to bat the better part of Sunday, Wanganui took it back at Manawatu with 150 runs in the morning session, and although Smith and Kumar fell to catches off the bowling of Jack Harris (4-60) at 141-4, Gill and Mark Fraser (39) looked to carry on with a 94 run partnership.
Having some form after a 49 during the week for a Central Districts XI against Wellington A, Gill scored his 103 off 136 balls, including 12 boundaries and two sixes.
"It was brilliant, chanceless. Just magnificent," Lock said of the innings.
Momentum swung again when Jenson bowled Fraser at 235-5, but Matt Simes came in for a signature concrete wall innings – as in 50 deliveries he scored only seven runs, but it protected his wicket, tired out the quick bowlers, batted for time, and supported Gill's scoring.
"It was [needed], they bowled well, but he hung around," said Lock.
Simes finally lost his stumps to Manawatu's third seamer in Matt Borren, having made 15 from 60 balls, yet Kinnerley (37) joined his Tech clubmate Gill to play an up-tempo innings of confidence, striking eight boundaries.
Having pulled a tiring Manawatu through to 88 overs, where it was now clear of their seven bowlers only Jensen and Harris were a threat, Wanganui seemed all but home, even when Gill finally went off Jensen to a good catch from Braden Rowe.
Sanjaya, who from first-class statistics in Sri Lanka can bat on his day in the tail, stroked consecutive two's off Jensen, but then the wheels fell off.
"The train of thought was trying to still be positive, too positive perhaps, and that did leave the tail," said Lock.
The skipper gave up a nick behind to reduce his team from a comfortable perch to 338-8.
Kinnerley, recognising he had just Connor O'Leary and Joel Clark left with him, played at a ball out from his body and was caught off Harris, and then Clark offered no shot and was bowled the next delivery.
Wanganui still came out hard for the third innings, with Sanjaya, Kinnerley and Kumar all picking up scalps.
But after the early wickets fell, McGrath (22 not out) and Curtis Heaphy (34 not out) made their side comfortable – Heaphy punishing Martin's sole over for 18 runs.
"If they were losing them [wickets], they were going to shut up shop," said Lock.
Wanganui will still take six competition points from the game, to Manawatu's nine, for the draw and batting bonus.
They play perennial Furlong Cup winners Hawke's Bay at Victoria Park on November 16, and Lock is hoping the squad can lift again as they get some more game time under their belts.
"Vikum has now seen them. Now he knows what they need to do at training," said Lock.
The smiling player-coach has settled in well with the team, although Lock said the difference between the accents meant instructions sometimes had to relayed a couple of times to be understood.
Manawatu 1st Innings
W Na Nagara lbw b R Kinnerley 14
M Hughes ct A Gill b R Kinnerley 11
T Mcgrath b A Gill 72
A Noema-Barnett ct G Smith b D Martin 177
F Na Nagara not out 64
C Heaphy lbw b C O'Leary 4
B Grant not out 9
Total: 365-5 declared (82.0 overs).
Bowling: V Sanjaya 9 overs 1 maiden 28 runs 0 wickets; R Kinnerley 15-2-57-2; A Gill 15-4-27-1; A Kumar 8-0-59-0; C O'Leary 14-1-84-1;
J Clark 11-1-47-0; D Martin 10-0-56-1.
Wanganui 1st Innings
G Smith ct M Borren b J Harris 62
D Rayner b C Jensen 7
S Sheriff lbw b C Jensen 0
A Kumar ct C Heaphy b J Harris 61
A Gill ct B Rowe b C Jensen 103
M Fraser b C Jensen 39
M Simes b M Borren 15
R Kinnerley ct M Hughes b J Harris 37
V Sanjaya ct B Grant b C Jensen 4
C O'Leary not out 2
J Clark b J Harris 0
Total: 340 (91.3 overs).
Bowling: C Jensen 22-2-87-5; J Harris 20.3-4-60-4; M Borren 14-1-62-1; T Richards 11-0-40-0; B Rowe 14-2-48-0; A Noema-Barnett 7-1-28-0; T Mcgrath 3-0-7-0.
Manawatu 2nd Innings
W Na Nagara lbw b V Sanjaya 0
M Hughes ct R Kinnerley b A Kumar 1
T Mcgrath not out 22
A Noema-Barnett lbw b V Sanjaya 6
F Na Nagara b R Kinnerley 11
C Heaphy not out 34
Total 81-4 (22 overs).
Bowling: V Sanjaya 8-1-19-2; A Kumar 6-2-18-1; R Kinnerley 5-1-15-1; C O'Leary 2-0-11-0; D Martin 1-0-18-0.
Result: Draw, Manawatu win first innings points.