Hawke's Bay player makes dream debut with first century of the season
In 71 seasons, there have been only four Central Stags to score a century on first-class debut. This weekend, 23-year-old Bayley Wiggins became one of them.
Wiggins galloped to 133 off 138 balls, with 16 boundaries and three sixes - and with the number "204" ringing in his ears. That is one better than the score his Stags and Hawke's Bay teammate Brad Schmulian made on first-class debut at Bay Oval on 25 October 2017, the New Zealand Domestic record for first-class cricket debutants.
Just hours earlier it had been Schmulian who presented Wiggins with his first-class baggy green Stags cap, and it was Schmulian who laid down the verbal challenge.
"At the tea break, Schmoo looked at me and smiled and just said, '204'", said Wiggins.
"I was eager to get that, but I'm pretty happy with what I got. Just playing was a dream for me, to be honest."
His captain Greg Hay had bucked early season tradition by electing to bat against the defending Plunket Shield champions Canterbury on day one of the season, a strong breeze whipping across Hagley Oval and a warm sun bringing the prospect of the pitch drying out later in the game.
But it quickly went pear-shaped for the visitors' top order who were 0/2 after the loss of both openers, including Hay.
By the time Wiggins stepped into the arena for the first time, allrounder Doug Bracewell had just departed at 101/5 to Will Williams in the 34th over, with BLACKCAP Matt Henry sitting on three wickets and eager to nab a bag. Wiggins waited on the next four balls against Williams before he got off the mark off the last ball of the over with an attractive cover drive to the fence.
So began an afternoon of adventure, his sweetly timing bearing witness to his more usual role as an aggressive opening batsman for both the Stags and Hawke Cup holders Hawke's Bay.
When Wiggins made his one-day Ford Trophy debut two seasons ago, he scored 98, 3 and 103 in his first three innings.
"Completely different format though," noted Wiggins. "Today I was nervous to begin with, but I kept my process and thoughts simple. I wanted to be positive, play my natural game and just react, not search."
At the other end, first the incumbent Dane Cleaver (44) and then Ben Wheeler were suggesting he perhaps calm down a bit, as the shots kept coming out. At five down in the 34th over, there were still many overs left to get through in the day.
After Williams trapped Cleaver at 128/6, the innings was in the balance, with Wheeler playing his first match for the Stags in more than a year, having missed last summer with injury.
Yet the pair piled on a seventh-record stand of 183 (just 36 shy of Stags records that had stood since the 1960s), with Wheeler reaching his 5th first-class half century for the team while Wiggins cracked away to keep scoring at a run-a-ball tempo.
He managed to survive rolling his ankle whilst running between the wickets in the 90s, before blasting his third six to bring up a remarkable century.
"Wheels looked at me and started cracking up. The over before, he'd just reminded me to chill out, relax. In my mind, if [spinner Cole McConchie] tossed it up, I was not going to react, I was just going to let it be. But I just reacted and hit it back over his head."
The pair had taken the Stags from 128/6 to 311/7 and despite Canterbury striking back late in the third session, they did enough to inspire their tailenders to provide some adventure of their own. Blair Tickner was unbeaten on 26* overnight: his equal highest first-class score for Central taking the team to 355/9 at stumps.
A potential retaliation by the strong Canterbury top order can not be discounted tomorrow, but despite the Canterbury pace attack's brilliant start with the ball, it was the fresh-look and injury-depleted visitors who dominated the defending champions on Day One.