Runs in Plunket Shield round six primarily came from those batsmen who could consider themselves on the fringes of Blackcaps Test selection and it was the same yarn with the ball as Matt Henry, Ish Sodhi, Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville racked up wickets. Slightly behind them were guys like Doug Bracewell and Blair Tickner, who are on the wider Test fringes.
Of course, respect due to Hamish Bennett who casually took his third 5-wicket-haul of the season in Wellington Firebirds loss to Canterbury. This takes Bennett up to 26 wickets @ 16.57avg/2.86rpo, although a hefty haul from Henry has seen him quickly creep up in pursuit of Bennett. Henry was the star of round six with the ball, snaring 5 first innings wickets and then 4 in the second dig, which saw him pass Auckland's Matt McEwan into 2nd for wickets; 23w @ 21.17avg/2.97rpo.
Henry tore through Wellington's top-order and that's always a fabulous sign as he sent Devon Conway, Michael Bracewell, Tom Blundell and Andrew Fletcher (batsmen #3-6) back to the sheds. The second innings saw him knock the top off Wellingtons batting line up, dismissing Luke Woodcock and Rachin Ravindra as well as picking up Fletcher again. That means that of his 9w, 7w were top-six batsmen.
Low key notable support came from lefty Ed Nuttall, who has struggled for consistent game time this season and last. In his first Plunket Shield game of the summer, Nuttall took 5-for (3, 2) and if you're looking for an underground bowler to keep tabs on, I'd chuck up Nuttall as someone who could impress in the last few rounds.
I kinda don't want Henry to be taken away from Plunket Shield cricket and I'm more excited to see if he can continue to pile up wickets. Since the return of Plunket Shield cricket, Henry has taken 5w, 1, 5, 4 in the 4inns and we saw last winter in England that when Henry's on a roll, he's steamin'. Also funky; Henry has taken 15 of his 23 wickets in the last two games and that leaves 8w for the first two games he played in.
Then we had Sodhi and Somerville dualing in the draw between Northern Districts Knights and Auckland Aces. A comparison between them would be silly as Auckland only bowled once; Sodhi took 6w then 2w and Somerville took 4w.
Sodhi's first innings wickets came throughout the Aces line up and in the second dig he dismissed Graeme Beghin (opener) and Sean Solia (#3). Somerville took the wickets of ND's openers and then a couple tail-enders, including Sodhi. Even an overall comparison gets weird because Sodhi's got 20 wickets to Somerville's 18, however Somerville has bowled 20 overs less than Sodhi and thus has a better average (24.88 vs 29.05).
With regards to Sodhi, it's timely to remind folk that Sodhi performs strongly in Plunket Shield cricket consistently...
2015/16: 22w @ 29.22avg.
2016/17: 40w @ 25.92avg.
2017/18: 28w @ 13.92avg.
2018/19: 20w @ 29.05avg.
I can't sit here and say that those numbers warrant Blackcaps selection, because in all three of those seasons prior to this one, Ajaz Patel took 40+ wickets and led all wicket-takers. My personal belief is that Sodhi has the most potential of the kiwi spinners and this is reinforced by consistently powerful Plunket Shield numbers, hence Sodhi should be given time to build into a Test career.
Again, it's all personal opinion with regards to the spinners as they are all pretty good and in Aotearoa, it doesn't matter who the spinner is. I like the idea of development and preparing players to reach their potential, hence I like Sodhi.
Having been dropped, Patel bounced back to help steer Central Districts Stags to victory against Otago Volts. Patel took 1w in the first innings and then 4w in the second, a performance that aligns with Patel's 40+ wicket tallies of previous summers as he bowls a plenty of overs. Patel bowled 32 and 35 overs, while no other Stags bowler in either innings bowled more than 18 overs.
Sodhi (38, 29) and Somerville (54) also stacked up overs, however Patel has the history factor given the disparity between his number of Plunket Shield overs and the next best in previous seasons. All of which has me talking around in circles and only reinforces the cluttered spinner landscape of Aotearoa as numbers/perspective can be twisted in any way.
What I do know is that while seamers took all the wickets for Aotearoa vs Bangladesh, 28 wickets (of 82w) fell to spinners in this round of Plunket Shield cricket. There is always going to be a trend towards seam success in Aotearoa, although Sodhi and Somerville are two of seven bowlers with 18+ wickets
Doug Bracewell may be in the shadows for Blackcaps Test cricket, however 3w and 2w for the Stags vs Volts, takes Bracewell to 14w @ 22.78avg this season.
Blair Tickner took 4w and 1w in the same game and now has 9w @ 25.66avg. If Tickner can maintain this, I'd suggest we keep an open mind about his potential outside of T20 cricket.
The perfect example of that is Lockie Ferguson, who played his first Plunket Shield came of the season and took 3w @ 12.33avg/1.94 in 19ov for Auckland (vs Knights). Remember that Ferguson's best format, statistically is First-Class where he averages 24.65 and that's slightly ahead of 26.64avg in List-A and 25.87 in domestic T20.
Only one game from Ferguson, but he has proven himself as a dominant force in Plunket Shield cricket. As much as I’m excited to see Henry play more Plunket Shield games, I finish with a slightly more realistic scenario - Henry should get at least one Test vs Bangladesh - of Ferguson playing the remainder of the Plunket Shield season. This has me fizzing and on the one side of things we have the need to see one spinner command the ‘best spinner’ spot, then on the other we have a guy like Ferguson who is likely to continue to blow away all stereotypes of his bowling.
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Peace and love 27.