It was “third time unlucky” for Marlborough’s senior rep cricketers who were beaten outright by Canterbury Country in the Hawke Cup zone three qualifier at Horton Park on Sunday.
For the third successive season Marlborough were unable to claim the right to challenge for the prestigious trophy, symbol of minor association supremacy.
Two seasons ago Marlborough travelled to Rangiora and weather stymied their chance to force a first innings result against Country while, while last season they were well beaten by Nelson at home on Horton Park.
This time around a poor first session put the home side under all sorts of pressure and, although they battled hard to get themselves back in the three-day game and came close at times, they were on the back foot throughout.
Things began badly on Friday morning when, after being asked to bat, a batting collapse saw the home side in trouble immediately.
Opening bowler Jed Roberts was the main benefactor as Marlborough slumped to 35-4, then 53-6. Of the top seven batsmen only opener Tom Sutherland, 13, Akhil Pant, 15, and skipper Ma’ara Ave with 10 managed double figures.
The home side’s revival was sparked by hard-hitting allrounder Harry MacDonald. The No 8 batsman entered the fray at 110-7 in the 38th over and immediately took the attack to the Country bowlers. He slammed six fours and the same number of sixes as he raced to 84 from just 54 balls, featuring in a 44-run partnership with Chris Turkington, who scored 17. An unbeaten 20 from Nick Weaver allowed Marlborough to post a disappointing score of 186 before they were dismissed in the 59th over.
Roberts took the bowling honours, claiming 5-63 from 15 overs while Harry Chamberlain bagged two wickets for 27 from 10.
In reply, Canterbury Country began steadily, openers Joe Williams and Rupert Young taking the score through to 26 before Williams was dismissed by Turkington. When Young followed just six runs later, caught behind off the in-form Weaver, the home side sniffed a chance to redress the game’s balance.
However, a gritty 74-run partnership between Chamberlain and Ben Hartland saw the visitors move steadily past the 100-run mark, well in control of proceedings.
But there was twist in the tale. Late in the day Marlborough skipper Ave threw the ball to part-time spinner Prabodha Arthavidu and the Sri Lankan picked up two wickets in his first over, enticing catches from Chamberlain and night watchman Smith to lift Marlborough’s hopes.
At the scheduled close on day one Country had scored 108-4, trailing by 78 runs with six wickets intact.
An early wicket to Weaver on Saturday morning gave the home side the start they wanted but some resolute batting by Country soon dulled their enthusiasm.
The pairing of Shanan Stewart and Tim Gruijters batted sensibly, pouncing on any loose deliveries to accumulate a 95-run partnership and ensure the first innings edge was achieved.
When Gruijters fell for 41 at 205-6, Will Hamilton entered the fray and shared in a 30-run partnership with Stewart, then a 61-run combination with Sam Chamberlain. Hamilton ended on an unbeaten 70 from 109 balls, topping the scoring from Stewart who scored 64 from 111 as Country registered 317.
Leading the way with the ball for Marlborough was Arthavidu, the part- time spinner claiming 4-40 from 10 overs, while Weaver, Sam Boyce and Turkington all grabbed a brace.
Trailing by 131 Marlborough needed to wipe off the deficit quickly then try to score quick runs on Sunday with the intention of forging a decent lead, declaring then bowling Country out to claim an outright. They began in promising fashion, reaching 113-2 off 32 overs before stumps were drawn on Saturday with Arthavidu, on 43, and Akhil Pant, 21, after opener Tom Sutherland had scored 41 from 72 balls.
However their work was undone quickly on Sunday morning, Arthavidu perishing with the addition of only one run, his demise followed by a steady progression of players to and from the pavilion. Again, MacDonald showed aggression, his 37 from 20 balls and 21 from Weaver pushing Marlborough 221 when they were dismissed in the 58th over. Best of the Country attack was Gruijters with 3-34.
A lead of 90 was never going to be enough to force an outright against an accomplished batting line-up and so it proved, Country moving through to 91 in the 23rd over, despite losing five wickets along the way with Rupert Young, 46 from 43, their top scorer. The highly-impressive Weaver, who claimed his 100th wicket for Marlborough in this innings grabbed 3-32, while Athavidu picked up 2-30, earning him six wickets for the match.
Marlborough coach Jarrod Englefield said his side hoped to get “a minimum of 150 to 200 runs ahead” before Country batted a second time, but it wasn’t to be.
“The pitch was starting to wear and turn with variable bounce so we may have been in with a [outright] chance. We did well to get to where we did the night before but this morning we didn’t front up with the bat so they only had to chase 90.
“Our top six batting basically let us down, in both innings. We were always chasing our tail from that first innings with the bat, and there was nothing wrong with the pitch … Harry MacDonald gave us a good chance, then on the second morning we bowled our guts out and set up an opportunity to bowl them out for under 185 but their experience got them through … the game just got away from us.
“There were moments there when we could have controlled it but unfortunately we didn’t.”
Marlborough missed the experience of former skippers Matt Stretch and Jerrym Lamb, who were absent with personal commitments, but Englefield was loath to use that as an excuse.
“The players that we had were more than capable of forcing a result.”
Despite the result, Englefield hailed another strong Hawke Cup campaign, where his side beat both Nelson and Buller outright then Country on the first innings.
“[The loss is] frustrating but we can take a lot out of it … going into this game we were probably in the best position we have been in to get the challenge, but that one bad session really hurt us.”
Marlborough’s final outing is a Newman Shield challenge against Nelson on March 8.