RESULT: Wellington Firebirds won outright by 18 runs
Batting Bonus Points: Wellington Firebirds 0 (completed), Otago Volts 2 (completed)
Bowling Bonus Points: Otago Volts 4 (maximum achieved), Wellington Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved)
Total points this round: Wellington Firebirds 16, Otago Volts 6
After having had their feathers ruffled yesterday, the Firebirds fought back in Dunedin on a dramatic final day with a veteran yet again to the fore.
Three big wickets to paceman Iain McPeake (below) and a brace for Logan van Beek soon pushed the Volts — who were effectively a batsman down, Michael Rae having replaced the concussed Shawn Hicks earlier in the game — to five down in a lively start to the last morning, the hosts still needing a further 123 for victory in what might in other circumstances have been a gentler chase.
However, not only were they without the impressive young Hicks, Neil Broom was missing from his customary spot at first drop, having spent the night in hospital after taking a ball to the neck while fielding in close.
The onus fell on Derek de Boorder in his 100th first-class match, joined by Mark Craig at the crease as they slipped to five down. De Boorder plucked a few boundaries off Jeetan Patel, but the veteran Firebirds spinner soon struck a further blow, claiming the consistent backstop caught and bowled, a huge wicket maiden.
With a further 107 runs still required, this was getting interesting...
De Boorder was also Patel's 300th first-class wicket for the Firebirds, and 739th of his overall first-class career, the milestone having been hastened by his first-innings seven-for. He was now well on his way to 10 for the match.
Batsman Broom would reappear at eight, striding out to the middle with the Volts in dire need of a steady partnership just as the challenging van Beek returned to the attack.
Broom's belated presence became even more important when the Volts lost their seventh before lunch, van Beek picking up Craig for his third to break a 28-run stand: 79 still to be found.
Broom (above, centre) set about effectively anchoring one end while capable partners looked for the rope, Neil Wagner finding the boundary twice on his 32nd birthday before Patel trapped him for his eighth wicket in the match, just two runs short of the Volts' 150.
Broom, 13* off 38 balls, was joined by Jacob Duffy now, a major situation on his hands: 68 still needed, partners running out, and the Firebirds attack all on point was officially nail-biting territory.
Home hopes got a boost as Duffy got off the mark immediately, then cut van Beek for four to get the 150 up on the tins. However, disaster struck when, as the non-striker, he was run out off a sacrificial second run, Broom hesitating, and then Duffy in turn, as McPeake pounced on the ball and fired it in as the pair tried to scramble through.
Now left with the last man, young Michael Rae (below), his side still needing a big 59 against Patel and van Beek, Broom smashed a six off Patel — his first boundary – to get the equation down to 50. He needed to take most of the strike if the Volts were to pull off the low chase for victory, McPeake meanwhile having replaced van Beek in the attack.
The last pair cautiously made it through to lunch and 183 for nine, Broom 37* off 85, Rae 5* off 17 at the break, requiring a further 32. Patel, meanwhile, was still hunting his 10th wicket for the match after a marathon 22-over spell.
Hearts jumped when Rae smashed him high early in the second session – but the umpire's arm went up only for six runs: safe. Rae had now batted for more than an hour, a 50-stand looming for the last wicket.
It was at that moment that the tireless Patel – by now having bowled 26 over unchanged – finally turned out the lights on the dramatic battle for victory, one of those matches where one might have secretly wished for two winners.
Patel bowled a crestfallen Rae, who dropped to his knees as the Firebirds celebrated Patel's 10 wickets in a match for just the third time in his marathon career, and not without some comforting words for the gutsy young number 11; Broom left stranded on 43.
Moreover for Patel and his Firebirds, they were now back on top of the points table with three rounds to go, two of the last three rounds key, top-of-the-table clashes with the unbeaten Central Stags and third-placed Auckland Aces.
The Firebirds will be action again this Saturday at the Basin Reserve in what could be the defining match of their season against the unbeaten, but injury-troubled, Central Stags; entry to all Plunket Shield cricket is free with play beginning at 10.30am.
While a cyclone toyed with the two matches in the North Island, the cricket weather shone on in Dunedin as the Wellington Firebirds set about attempting to regain control of the match with the bat.
Resuming at 107 for one, Michael Papps soon had his fifty in the bank and would carry on for his 33rd first-class century, his 13th ton for his current side.
Papps had valuable early support from first drop Stephen Murdoch, the pair sharing a 71-run stand for the second wicket before Murdoch got a beaut of a ball from Jimmy Neesham on 48, taking out the top of the off-stump.
It was a fine way for Neesham to claim his 100th first-class career wicket.
Captain Michael Bracewell joined Papps at 163 for two and helped move the total through to 233 for three before he was trapped by Anaru Kitchen on 27.
Papps was soldiering on, taking the Firebirds' lead to 176 before becoming the next man to fall - caught off Michael Rae after more than six hours at the crease.
Rae (below) had not been named in the Volts' starting XI for the match, but made history by becoming the first player in New Zealand's domestic game to join the match as a concussion substitute under the new rules, replacing Shawn Hicks who had taken a blow to the helmet while fielding in short.
Not only that, but the big 22-year-old Rae then swooped in for his maiden first-class five-wicket bag, mopping up the tail to stop the Firebirds at 309, the sudden collapse leaving a victory target of 215 for the Volts, with four sessions to get them.
By stumps the Volts had ticked off 62 of those runs for the loss of two wickets, Hamish Rutherford caught behind by Devon Conway off Logan van Beek — Conway by now having come into the Firebirds XI as a replacement for Tom Blundell, assembling for the first of the NZ XI warm-up games to play England.
Michael Rippon was the other to fall, trapped by Iain McPeake before Volts captain Rob Nicol (27*) and Anaru Kitchen (17*) saw out the last 10 overs of the day.
Michael Papps was back at the crease by the end of the second day in what was developing as a fast-paced tussle in sunny Dunedin.
Unbeaten on 45 in the Firebirds' second innings at stumps, Papps and first drop Stephen Murdoch's primary task tomorrow will be to carry on making in-roads into the Volts' first-innings lead of 95, the hosts having reached 289 in their first dig.
Jimmy Neesham had sparked with the top score of 93 (111 balls, 11x4, 4x6), naturally disappointed to miss three figures but falling victim to a rampaging Jeetan Patel who claimed his best ever first-class figures in Wellington colours with seven for 105.
Bowling 36 overs — almost half the innings, Patel (above) had to shuffle through his full bag of tricks as the Volts fought back.
After a deflection dismissal at the non-striker's from bowler Logan van Beek had removed Neil Broom without score - a real bonus wicket, Patel started his work with Hamish Rutherford, who had made a good start with a patient 32 before the spinner trapped him.
Derek de Boorder, Anaru Kitchen, Michael Rippon and Mark Craig all then fell cheaply to Patel in swift succession, but Neesham held his ground as the wickets tumbled and kept the runs flowing.
Neesham would become Patel's sixth victim with the score at 237 for eight, Neil Wagner also chiming in with a late order 40 and Jacob Duffy a quick unbeaten 20 before Luke Woodcock and Patel closed in on the final two wickets.
It was the 27th time Patel had taken five or more wickets in a first-class innings, and his first seven-for for the Firebirds.
It's another major career milestone ticked off for Michael Papps. When he reached 12 with a two off Neil Wagner, the veteran opening batsman became one of the exclusive club of New Zealanders to have scored 12,000 career first-class runs.
The match is Papps's 185th first-class appearance. Michael Papps's 12K runs also includes 6663 for his original team, Canterbury; 509 runs for various New Zealand and New Zealand XIs; and 285 runs for New Zealand A.
Other New Zealand batsmen to have passed the elite 12K mark (unlike Papps, most having crafted significant County careers in addition to their New Zealand domestic stats) include some of New Zealand's most legendary names: Glenn Turner, John Wright, Martin Crowe, Bert Sutcliffe, Geoff Howarth, John R. Reid, Stephen Fleming, Dipak Patel, Ken Rutherford, Mathew Sinclair, Bevan Congdon, Craig Spearman, Hamish Marshall, Raymond Hitchcock, Ces Dacre, Stewie Dempster and Sir Richard Hadlee.
Later in his Dunedin innings, Papps fell one boundary shy of a half century — after which the Firebirds plummeted from 117 for three to 194 all out, captain Michael Bracewell top-scoring with an unbeaten 58 against his former team.
Volts spin twins Michael Rippon and Mark Craig (above) claimed identical hauls of 4-42, Rippon doing the damage at the top and Craig mopping up.
By stumps, the Volts were 80 for two in reply with BLACKCAP Anaru Kitchen on 46 not out overnight. The match is veteran Volts wicketkeeper-batsman Derek de Boorder's 100th first-class appearance.