Day four: Wellington Firebirds, 399 (Franklin 128*, Blundell 118, Bates 4-99, de Grandhomme 3-32) & 298/9 (Murdoch 63, Elliott 105, de Grandhomme 4-39, Martin 3-73) drew with Auckland Aces, 399/9 declared (Craig Cachopa 79, de Grandhomme 86, Martin 79) & 11/1.
Rain forced an early lunch at the Hawkins Basin Reserve, but not before Grant Elliott had had time to post his eighth first-class century. The composed dig helped solder a 249-run lead before he became Colin de Grandhomme’s second victim - shortly after raising his bat, and just minutes before the cloudburst.
The hour-long stoppage increased the likelihood of a draw but, not one to give in, Aces spinner Bruce Martin struck twice in seven balls in the middle session to remove Luke Woodcock and first-innings hero Tom Blundell, after Woodcock had brought up his 5000th first-class run. It triggered a late order collapse, unstoppable de Grandhomme following up with a double strike in his 23rd over - picking up an easy victim in Andy McKay (for a golden duck) with his first ball before taking out Gillespie with his last delivery, completing a fine all-round contribution.
Wellington’s lead now pushing 300, still with no sign of a declaration, it was up to the Aces to bowl their stubborn opponents out - and they effectively did so. Martin struck for the third time in as many overs to have the Firebirds nine-down and, with Michael Pollard unable to bat, the Firebirds’ lead was stopped at 298.
Forty-five overs remained, setting the Aces a run-a-ball chase for victory. However, the arrival of more rain saw the match called late in the middle session.
Day three: Wellington Firebirds, 399 & 162-2 (Murdoch 63, Elliott 59*) lead Auckland Aces, 399/9 declared (Craig Cachopa 79, de Grandhomme 86, Martin 79) by 162 runs.
To say the game was evenly poised after each side had completed their first innings was an understatement: both the Firebirds and the Aces made exactly 399, after Auckland skipper Gareth Hopkins decided to declare nine down in reply at the loss of Bruce Martin’s wicket.
His tail had wagged pleasingly, overnight batsman Martin pushing on to 79, first in a 57-run part-nership with Michael Bates and then a 62-run ninth-wicket stand with Lachie Ferguson, who man-aged to hold out 80 deliveries as his partner toyed with all elements of the Wellington attack.
The Firebirds, who had hoped to be batting before lunch, were forced to digest the delay before digging in themselves to be 78-1 at tea, Stephen Murdoch and Grant Elliott steady in their after-noon’s work after the early loss of Michael Papps.
Elliott remained by stumps, unbeaten on 59 and having helped build an interim lead of 132. With eight wickets in hand, he and Franklin will likely need to step up their pace, however, when they resume in order to force a result.
Day two: Auckland Aces 280-7 (Colin de Grandhomme 86, Craig Cachopa 79, Mark Gillespie 2-53, Jeetan Patel 2-50, Luke Woodcock 2-10) trail Wellington Firebirds 399 all out (James Franklin 128 not out, Michael Bates 4-99) by 119 runs.
After reaching 399 thanks to an unbeaten James Franklin ton, the Firebirds were able to make steady inroads into the Auckland Aces line-up, putting a lid on Craig Cachopa and Colin de Grandhomme's resistance in the process, at the Basin on day two.
After the Firebirds added 62 to their overnight total, it was the Aces' turn to try the Basin's testing batting conditions. Their top order all got starts but were not able to kick on to bigger scores - Colin Munro was caught by Tom Blundell from Jeetal Patel to leave his side at 4-125, to bring de Grandhomme and Cachopa tougher and they set about digging in and start to chase down the Firebirds' total.
Both men were looking comfortable and set, before all rounder Luke Woodcock was given a chance to bowl before the new ball, and immediately bowled Cachopa, then got Gareth Hopkins next over, before Gillespie removed de Grandhomme just before the close of play.
Bruce Martin and Michael Bates will face the task of making progress towards the home team's total in the morning, and try and hold off a Firebirds attack keen to wrap things up and hold a reasonable first innings lead.
Tom Blundell scored his maiden First Class century and skipper James Franklin also reached three figures as the Wellington Firebirds had a solid day at the crease against the Auckland Aces in the Plunket Shield at Hawkins Basin Reserve.
Michael Bates and then Colin de Grandhomme took advantage of a Basin green top to made good progress through the host's top order. de Grandhomme had Michael Papps, Grant Elliott and Michael Pollard back in the shed and when Lachie Ferguson had Luke Woodcock caught by Jeet Raval for a duck, Wellington were in trouble at 5-116.
That brought Franklin and Blundell together and lifted the Wellington innings up by the bootstraps. Together, they put on 199 runs for the fifth wicket, with the two players racing each other to the 100 mark. Blunder, whose previous best high score was 32, lost his wicket cutting hard to point, where Craig Cachopa reeled in the catch from Dean Bartlett, but Franklin negotiated the last few overs to end the day on 110*.
For the Aces, Tim McIntosh became the first to play 100 games for the Association,
Auckland will look to get into the hosts' lower order on a pitch that should still offer some assistance with the ball in the morning.