A decisive last day saw the Devon Hotel Central Stags not only despatch the Canterbury Wizards, but regain top spot on the Plunket Shield leaderboard from the Otago Volts.
Indian-born left-arm orthodox spinner Ajaz Patel continued a prolific debut summer with a career-best haul of 6-57 in just his third first-class appearance. Twenty-four-year-old Patel ripped the heart out of the Wizards' run chase, reducing them from a promising 88/1 at the start of play to 212/8 by the time Patel beguiled Todd Astle, leaving the batsman's castle in tatters.
The Wizards sustained critical damage in the hour before lunch, tumbling from 128/3 at drinks - a seemingly gettable 204 runs still required for the win, to a tenuous 168/5 at the break, Patel having picked up Tom Latham and Dean Brownlie within a matter of overs, his figures 3-27 after the pace of Kyle Jarvis had earlier accounted for Wizards skipper Peter Fulton and Shanan Stewart.
Opener Fulton was the only batsman to break 50, with none of the subsequent stands coming close to emulating his opening partnership with George Worker. Astle's wicket secured Patel's maiden five-for and he then had Matt McEwan caught for good measure, before Jeet Raval took his first and only scalp of the innings to end the Wizards' suffering on 250, wrapping up the match with a session to spare.
Day two: Close encounter continues
Fighting like rutting stags - it was an apt description for the seemingly evenly matched clash between the Devon Hotel Central Stags and the Canterbury Wizards after an absorbing day three at McLean Park.
Pushing their overnight score of 77 for two to 320, it was a team effort from the Stags batsmen with useful starts coming from Carl Cachopa (41), Mathew Sinclair (38) and Tarun Nethula (41), while Ross Taylor put a half-century in the bank during the morning session and captain Kieran Noema-Barnett kicked on, gluing the innings together during the latter sessions with a patient 90 before he ultimately becoming the ninth man down.
After failing to fire in the first innings, it had finally seemed business as usual for Taylor as he pounced on anything loose and sent the ball hurtling to the boundary five times. But the end came prematurely when he was bowled by a tidy Andrew Ellis, who created pressure at one end while Ryan McCone capitalised to pick up four for 82 and Matt McEwan grabbed his best first-class figures of three for 47.
Having reached 88 for one by stumps, with Peter Fulton set on 50, the Wizards will resume on day four chasing a further 244 runs for victory, while a win for the Stags would see them overtake the Volts to reclaim the top spot on the table.
Day one or two: Central, Canterbury in tight one
Midway in the tussle between table-toppers the Devon Hotel Central Stags and the Canterbury Wizards, the match is in the balance with both sides fancying their chances.
While Ross Taylor's return to cricket had captured all the pre-match headlines, it was former BLACKCAPS Mathew Sinclair (86) and Kruger van Wyk (71) who combined to play the leading hands in Central's first innings of 292, after opening batsman Jeet Raval got proceedings underway with a patient half-century.
The Stags grabbed a second batting bonus point before they promptly declared at 303 for eight, strategically forcing the Wizards to settle for three of the maximum four bowling points on offer.
Ryan McCone was the best of the wicket-takers with three for 55, while three catches flew to Tom Latham behind the stumps. But by the time bad light ended play on day one, the Wizards' mood had been tempered by the loss of an early wicket, Kyle Jarvis tempting George Worker to edge one for a duck.
When the Wizards lost their other opener, Peter Fulton, for another duck first thing the next morning - and then number three Shanan Stewart for an account of just seven, the visitors were in trouble at 22/3: game on. Jarvis and the young Andrew Mathieson kept firing down rockets and picked up four wickets apiece, but not before some useful resistance from Dean Brownlie (88), Latham (43) and a quick-fire, late-order 87 from Andrew Ellis. The Stags collected maximum bowling points, but the Wizards just one batting point.
With a miniscule lead of 11 on the first innings, the Stags were back to work at the batting crease in the afternoon session, but lost Jeet Raval and Jamie How cheaply. Taylor (22*) and form batsman Carl Cachopa (33*) were closing in on a promising 50 partnership by stumps, however. The Stags head into a pivotal day three leading by 88 runs, with eight wickets remaining.