WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS v OTAGO VOLTS
5-8 November 2020
RESULT: Otago Volts won by 84 runs
Toss: Wellington Firebirds who bowled
Total points this round: Firebirds 5, Volts 18
Dale Phillips career best in each innings
Tom Blundell eighth first-class century (sixth for Firebirds)
Blundell's mode of dismissal: obstructing the field is only the 2nd instance
in NZ and Plunket Shield cricket history; and the first since 2017 laws change
Stormy weather, horizontal rain and strong winds greeted both teams on the final morning of a delicately poised situation, meaning an early lunch had to taken as the action-packed match morphed into a tense game of patience.
All day the teams waited, the Volts needing three wickets, and the Firebirds 94 runs, with 12 points at stake.
Hours ticked by. Card games were won and lost. Outside, the rain stopped, the wind continued and the groundsmen were scurrying about their work, and now after lunch everyone waited, and waited, to see if the ground would dry sufficiently and in time for the match to be decided.
It was 5pm before the teams could get back out there.
The statchat alone would be worth the wait.
For Tom Blundell, the overnight centurion, it was unwelcome statchat, however, as - just seven balls into the late afternoon action - he was dismissed in the quirkiest fashion possible in a scorebook: out for obstructing the field.
A rare form of dismissal: @cricketwgtninc's Tom Blundell out on 101 for obstructing the field. @OtagoVolts going on to claim their first win of the season; they shoot up to 3= on the points table.— #NZIII (@MargotButcher) November 8, 2020
#worththewait #plunketshield pic.twitter.com/fPvT0z3hK8
It was the beginning of a swift end for the Firebirds, against an Otago Volts side keeping their swedes warm with blue and gold woolly beanies.
Concussion sub Andrew Fletcher was gone just three overs later, Anaru Kitchen taking a sharp grab off Nathan Smith to have the Firebirds down to their last man at 192/9.
Kitchen took the next catch as well, confirming a fourth wicket in the innings for an elated Duffy, and the Volts' first win of the season.
Jacob Duffy taking the final @cricketwgtninc wicket to secure the @OtagoVolts first win of the Plunket Shield season! 8 wickets for @Jacobduffman27 in the match to have him second on the wicket ladder for the season so far. Match Report | https://t.co/MgiB6sztqN #PlunketShield pic.twitter.com/XVIJcKSAKO— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) November 8, 2020
It was a victory over the defending champions that catapulted the southerners from fifth to third equal on the points table, and it was their first at the Basin since 2003.
And, they had done it after a tough three-week slog on the road, with last season's star performer and contracted player Dean Foxcroft still stuck in South Africa due to COVID-19 border closures.
It left the Firebirds as the only side yet to pocket a win heading into next week's fourth round, an egg they will be hoping to break against the undefeated Auckland Aces who will be next up at the Basin Reserve.
The Volts meanwhile head home for their first home match, at Alexandra's Molyneux Park, against unbeaten competition frontrunners Canterbury. Buckle your seats.
Things continued to go more of less to plan for the Otago Volts with two batsmen reaching half centuries before lunch on the third morning.
Dale Phillips had never scored a first-class century heading into this match; now he had a half ton in both innings, and was joined by captain Hamish Rutherford, the duo 55* and 53* respectively by lunch.
At 146 for two, already the side had a healthy lead over their quarry, despite the loss of Cam Hawkins who had been claimed caught off Hamish Bennett without adding to his overnight score of 21.
After a 132-run stand for the third wicket, finally the Firebirds had another breakthrough with Rutherford trapped by Finn Allen on 69. However, the lead now was 234 runs with seven wickets remaining, the platform allowing some license for the batsmen who followed.
Nick Kelly joined Phillips on 67* and got underway almost immediately with a lavish cover drive to the boundary.
Eyes on the prize - a first outright for the season, Rutherford declared at 218 for three, Phillips left unbeaten on a career best 83 not out, setting the Firebirds a chase of 279 in a generous day and a half as the Otago skipper backed his bowlers to do the job again.
Tom Blundell had other ideas. The Firebirds' opening batsman dominated an opening partnership of 54 with Rachin Ravindra, then shared a start with Devon Conway on the second wicket until two quick strikes from Jacob Duffy had the hosts 94/3.
Conway fell to a terrific return catch by Duffy, the strapping paceman lunging against the momentum of his follow-through for a diving one-hand grab.
With one of the big dangermen gone, he then had new man Michael Bracewell caught behind off his next over, but Blundell was more obstinate.
Blundell constructed another 58-stand with Finn Allen, and the pair got the runs required down to just 127 with seven in hand. But just as it all seemed to be heading into nervewracker territory for Volts supporters, a clump of wickets fell.
The fall of Allen and replacement Jamie Gibson, for a first-baller, put Michael Rae on a hat-trick. It was unconverted as Lauchie Johns averted, but the Volts soon had another when the keeper-batsman was run out off Duffy six balls later.
Duffy picked up his third in Ollie Newton off his very next over, and suddenly the Firebirds had just three wickets left, and 116 still to find.
Blundell remained, inching his way through all the calamity from 91* to 92* but was joined now by Andrew Fletcher, the 12th man and handy top order batsman subbed in as a concussion replacement for tailender Ben Sears, who had suffered delayed concussion after trying to duck a delivery from Michael Rae during his career best innings.
Nathan Smith came back on with Duffy to try to break the stand before stumps. Instead, a gutsy single off Michael Rippon in the penultimate over of the day brought up Blundell's eighth first-class century (138 balls, 261 minutes, 12 boundaries); his sixth Plunket Shield hundred for the Firebirds.
His effort ensured the Firebirds lived to fight another day, set to resume on the fourth morning (weather permitting) needing a further 94 runs from 185/7 whilst the Volts need three wickets if they instead are to cement the victory.
It was advantage Volts after the visitors shut down the Firebirds' innings for just 205 - handing a 60-run first-innings lead to the southerners. By stumps, that lead had progressed to 96, and with nine wickets intact.
Southlander Jacob Duffy had started the day on a top note by claiming two top order wickets in the space of five balls in the 17th over, dangerman Devon Conway departing for just four after appearing to get a faint inside edge onto his stumps.
Then it was set batsman Tom Blundell back in the hutch as well, caught off the glove.
Fast start for the @OtagoVolts at the @BasinReserve! Jacob Duffy with two big @cricketwgtninc wickets in an over! Conway then Blundell. Live VIDEO scoring | https://t.co/RACd4cbxzA #PlunketShield pic.twitter.com/e7ro17F6j2— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) November 5, 2020
Big first session for the @OtagoVolts at the @BasinReserve ! Six @cricketwgtninc wickets shared between Duffy, Rae, Smith and Muller. Bracewell 33* Ben Sears 5* Lunch VIDEO scorecard | https://t.co/RACd4cbxzA #PlunketShield pic.twitter.com/clSjN0xORl— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) November 6, 2020
Duffy would end the innings with a haul of 4-52, but in the meantime the Firebirds managed to get under the skin of their opponents with fighting play.
Ben Sears was the architect of the afternoon's most surprising twists and turns as the gangly 22-year-old speedster (previous best with the bat: 18* from seven innings) pulled a career best 41 out of his hat.
Sears batted for more than three hours, faced 154 deliveries, hit five boundaries, and garnered his side's top score for the first time in his career - batting at nine.
Get him up the order! 👏— Cricket Wellington (@cricketwgtninc) November 6, 2020
Hamish Bennett and Ben Sears frustrating the @OtagoVolts bowlers here. Their 10th wicket partnernship is now worth 44.
LIVE SCORING | OTA 265 | WEL 194/9 | https://t.co/NFvG2ncB2d#WEAREWELLINGTON #PlunketShield pic.twitter.com/hRylbkeLcC
The 10th-wicket stand of 61 with another unrenowned batsman in Hamish Bennett was likewise the best of the innings.
Earlier, captain Michael Bracewell had offered 37 before he, too, fell victim to Duffy - the only other moment of hope for the hosts before the tailenders saved the Firebirds from a big deficit when they were dangling at 144/9.
Sears ensured his side got at least one batting bonus for posting the 200, before Travis Muller finally had the increasingly confident youngster caught.
That left 18 overs before stumps for the Volts to start work on growing their lead.
Back on home turf, Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell had no hesitation in sending the southern men in after winning his first toss of the season.
Looking to get off the bottom rung of the ladder against a side just one point above them, neither side had yet picked up a win in the 2020/21 championship but here was a prime opportunity.
Ollie Newton struck early, and had a brace by lunch by which time the Volts were 118 for three.
Having got a start before the break, captain Hamish Rutherford took a grasp of the middle session for a half century, and it was the second already in the Volts' innings after first drop Dale Phillips had earlier reached his maiden half ton with a hand of 65 off 82 (11x4).
Rutherford, batting at four, struck 10 boundaries but was undone by tall young quick Ben Sears who angled one across the left-hander to get him caught at second slip on 57.
It was Sears' second wicket of the day and when Mitch Renwick followed a handful of overs later, the Volts were 188/6.
The usually reliable rearguard of Michael Rippon and Nathan Smith took the side to tea at 196/6 and picked up the four runs after the break to snare the Volts' first batting point of the season, but their fledgling stand was undone when Newton picked up his third early in the last session, then Rippon followed him back in soon after at 229/8 as Newton struck yet again.
It was left to Jacob Duffy and Travis Muller to find the next batting point, putting on 36 for the ninth wicket before Sears proved too good for Muller.
Sears (4-46) then made it two wickets in the space of three balls to wrap up the innings at 265 all out in 80.3 overs for the full complement of bowling bonuses with Newton finishing with 4-62.
Ravindra and Blundell make their way to the middle with less than ten overs remaining in the day.— Cricket Wellington (@cricketwgtninc) November 5, 2020
LIVE SCORING | OTA 265 | WEL 0/0 | https://t.co/NFvG2ncB2d#WEAREWELLINGTON #PlunketShield pic.twitter.com/Jn5FOrFdUM
A solid start to the Firebirds' reply ended on the last ball of the day with Rachin Ravindra caught for nine at 48/1 overnight, trailing by 217.