A crucial wicket from rookie legspinner Tarun Nethula has set the State Auckland Aces up for certain victory over the State Canterbury Wizards in the first State Championship cricket match of the season.
Although the four-day game will go to its final day in Rangiora on Thursday, the defending champions have no hope of salvaging a draw, with a late afternoon batting collapse leaving them 280 for nine and chasing 405 for the win.
Corey Anderson (39 not out) battled resolutely with No 11 Hamish Bennett to delay the inevitable, aided when bad light halted play shortly after 6.15pm.
Nethula made the best possible start to his first-class career when he floated in a tempter to New Zealand squad member Peter Fulton, with Scott Styris holding the catch in the slips to break a dangerous-looking 99-run third-wicket partnership.
Fulton (64) and Johann Myburgh came together when the Wizards were teetering on 79 for two, following the early losses of Michael Papps (26) and Todd Astle (23). The pair buckled down to bat with determination and leave the southerners a glimmer of hope at 148 for two at lunch.
But once Nethula dislodged Fulton with the score on 178, the hosts looked vulnerable, more so once Shanan Stewart collected his second duck of the match, deceived by Nethula's wrong 'un and trapped leg before wicket.
At 186 for four, Canterbury's hopes all but disappeared six runs later with the loss of the South African-born Myburgh, who crafted a useful 67 from 99 balls including nine boundaries before Colin de Grandhomme trapped him on the crease for another lbw decision.
De Grandhomme also accounted for Iain Robertson four overs later, caught by wicketkeeper Garth Hopkins on 14 after a poorly judged hook and Canterbury were left fighting a doomed rearguard action at 208 for six.
Captain Kruger van Wyk became Nethula's third victim, the second to be bamboozled by a well-disguised wrong 'un which went on to knock back his off-stump. Anderson settled the innings somewhat, but rapidly ran out of partners as English import Steven Croft accounted for Brandon Hiini (11) and Michael Davidson (10), both trapped leg before wicket as the light faded.
Canterbury rarely got off the back foot in this game, after a poor first innings batting display saw them post just 169 in reply to Auckland's imposing first innings total of 398.
Hope flared briefly in the morning as Canterbury captured Auckland's remaining five second innings wickets for 32 runs, leaving them 175 all out, but the target of 405 always appeared out of the Wizards’ reach.
Andy McKay's first innings 4-37 was well backed-up in the second innings by de Grandhomme who took 3-37 off 12 overs, Nethula (3-71) and Croft with 2-31 off seven.