The last match of the summer went down to the wire in the tightest of finishes to end the New Zealand Domestic summer in style.
Having needed 15 off the last two overs, the Auckland Aces (368 & 267/7) drew with Wellington Firebirds (342 & 298/7 declared) in a last-over thriller - with twin centurion Will O'Donnell left needing a six off the final ball of the season to tie the game.
After a remarkable match, both Wellington Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell (below) and Auckland Aces run machine O'Donnell had achieved the rare feat of a century in each innings on the tense final day of the match.
A total of six centuries were scored in the match, with the others being Bracewell's and Tom Blundell's first innings centuries for the Firebirds, and brothers Robbie and Will O'Donnell's first innings centuries for the Auckland Aces.
Bracewell's achievement was just the sixth instance of a century in each innings for Wellington, while Will O'Donnell's was the ninth instance for Auckland - dating back to Ces Dacre in 1924/25. Astoundingly O'Donnell had gone into the match with no first-class centuries, and came out with two: a maiden 117 and today's unbeaten 137*.
O'Donnell had unlikely support in the final session run chase from spinner Will Somerville who meanwhile produced his maiden half century, a career-best 59 off a cracking 54 balls in a 123-run stand for the sixth wicket.
But his dismissal raised the tension as the match went down to the bitter end.
After O'Donnell had taken a single off the first ball of the last over, new batsman Danru Ferns, yet to get off the mark, found himself needing 10 runs off the last three balls to win.
He managed to turn the strike back over to centurion O'Donnell with his first run, then O'Donnell heaved at Logan van Beek for a two.
That meant a six off the final ball would tie the match - but van Beek had been tight, and was wily as O'Donnell was left reaching to connect. The pair could only run through for a draw - the Aces nevertheless finishing their campaign unbeaten, and ousted 2019/20 champions the Firebirds remaining winless for 2020/21.
Bracewell joins Bert Vance, Martin Crowe, Jason Wells, Jesse Ryder and Luke Ronchi as batsmen to have achieved a century in each innings for Wellington.
O'Donnell joins Ces Dacre, Paul Whitelaw, Bert Sutcliffe, Graham Gedye, Matt Horne, Richard Jones, Colin Munro and Mark Chapman (last summer) as batsmen to have achieved the feat for the Auckland Aces.
It was a special day for the cricketing O'Donnell family as the runfest of a summer from siblings Robbie and Will reached its zenith.
Elder brother and captain Robbie O'Donnell had notched his fifth first-class century on the prevous evening but now Will O'Donnell had a chance to join him in the first session of the penultimate day of the summer - having resumed with 21 runs needed for three figures for the first time in the Plunket Shield.
O'Donnell-the-younger had already fashioned a mightily impressive Ford Trophy streak this season, including his maiden List A ton. Now he had a chance to progress his strong form one step further.
The sons of former Auckland Aces coach Mark O'Donnell didn't appear to let the occasion faze them as they began the third morning with care and due respect - gradually lifting the tempo until Will O'Donnell thundered a six over long-off, off Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell, to bolt to 99*.
The Firebirds took the second new ball before Will finally set off for a jittery signal that reeled in the coveted century - statistically, not only his maiden century (239 balls, 314 minutes, 11x4, 2x6), but just the fourth time that a pair of brothers had scored hundreds in the same first-class innings in New Zealand Domestic cricket.
And, the O'Donnells were also just the second brothers to do so for Auckland - a full century after Cyril and Nessie Snedden had done it against Hawke's Bay in 1920/21.
While the stats beguiled, front of mind for the batting brothers and captain was the match situation - and their handsome application had enhanced the Auckland's chances of stating unbeaten for the summer.
The second-wicket partnership had reached 222 before Will finally feathered Logan van Beek down the leg-side to be out on 117, at 281/2. That was just 20 runs shy of breaking the Auckland second-wicket partnership record that has stood since the late 1980s.
Seven overs later Robbie was back in the tent as well, his innings stopped at 142, after 15 boundaries and three sixes.
The Aces were in a useful position but the Firebirds would hit back either side of lunch via Iain McPeake and the quick Ben Sears, and - without the services of the injured Sean Solia - the Aces found themselves in a middle order muddle, suddenly needing to reapply themselves if they were to get back on course to overtake the visitors' first-innings total of 342.
After the big efforts of the top three, no one else in the order would pass 24 as the Firebirds attack rallied and attacked - picking up a string of middle order wickets with quick breakthroughs.
McPeake and Sears would both finish with a brace while spinner Rachin Ravindra snaffled three, the Aces' tail scrambling to just a 26-run lead.
With four sessions left in the match, the hosts no doubt would have felt short-changed by not having taken the opportunity to bat deep into the session; meanwhile it had also been an unusual day for the match officials.
Umpire Tim Parlane had taken ill. Match referee and former Test representative Gary Troup stepped in as square-leg umpire for the rest of the day while Wayne Knights put in a great stint of concentration, doubling his duties by standing at both ends.
By stumps, the match was set up for a riveting final day. The Aces dismissed for 368/9 (with Solia unable to bat), the onus was on Firebirds captain Bracewell to mull over a potential declaration target for the following day, and the pace at which they would like to score their runs.
But by the end of the day, the Firebirds had shot themselves in the foot somewhat with the loss of three wickets, including nightwatchman van Beek, at 130/3.
Danru Ferns had struck early thanks to a diving Cole Briggs at forward square leg to dismiss Rachin Ravindra at 14/1, before spinners Will Somerville and Louis Delport each struck in the final hour.
Bracewell (56*) and opener Luke Georgeson (36*) crucially recovered for the fourth wicket, however, and will take a lead of 104 into the final day of 2020/21 still a chance to rack up their first win.
If it's not one O'Donnell brother scoring the runs this summer, it's the other.
Today was captain and big brother Robbie's day in the sun - again - as he registered his fifth first-class century just before stumps to head into day three unbeaten on 100*. It was his third Plunket Shield century of 2020/21, just one short of equalling the Aces record for most first-class centuries in a season.
Younger brother Will is undefeated overnight as well, poised on a career best 79* after the siblings plastered on 171* for the second wicket on a strong afternoon for the Auckland Aces.
The Aces had needed a good start after the Firebirds reached 342 in their first innings and will head into day three trailing by just 122.
Earlier, after Ross ter Braak (4-67) picked up his fourth wicket in Peter Younghusband, Will Somerville kept the lid on the Firebirds' tail to collect 4-61 through a lean 39.2 over spell on a warm afternoon.
A day that started terribly for the Firebirds eventually got better and better and captain Michael Bracewell and BLACKCAP Tom Blundell joined forces in a record-shattering partnership.
More to the point, their 217-run stand equated a vital fightback for the side after a fired-up Ross ter Braak (3-46) had had the Firebirds 13/3 in a chaotic first 7.3 overs.
Ter Braak had given his skipper just what he wanted for Easter after Bracewell had won the toss on behalf of the visitors and elected to bat first.
Rachin Ravindra, Jakob Bhula and Luke Georgeson were all back in the tent before Bracewell (105) and Blundell (113) restored order, batting into the final session in their handsome stand.
It's not often you break a partnership record that has stood for almost 100 years, but today was that day and they took the Firebirds to 230/4 before another wicket fell, Danru Ferns finally stopping Bracewell.
By stumps the Firebirds had gone on to 278/6, with overnight batsmen Troy Johnson and Peter Younghusband in the infancy of a seventh-wicket stand.
Article added: Wednesday 07 April 2021