The Wellington Firebirds completed a 102-run outright over the SBS Bank Otago Volts, cricket taking the gloss off what had otherwise been a simply stunning four days in Queenstown for the hosts.
The win meant the Firebirds flew to the top of the Plunket Shield table, equal on 60 points with the Aces but claiming superiority on net run rate. The winless Volts remain in the cellar on 19 points.
At lunch on the last day the Volts had already been up against it at 116/5, still needing 275 to win. Dane Hutchinson already had an ominous 3-32 for their guests.
Matt Bacon would follow suit with 3-27, eventually wrapping up proceedings when he had Jacob Duffy caught after a defiant 28 from the number eleven, leaving the Volts all out for 288 in just under 75 overs.
Earlier, Jimmy Neesham (65) and Derek de Boorder, who soldiered on for an unbeaten half century, had managed to keep the Volts hanging in there through the heat of the afternoon, but on a day when a significant partnership was sorely needed, the hosts could not quite throw a big enough one together against a side with its eyes on the top spot on the ladder.
Stumps score: SBS Bank Otago Volts 13/1 (second innings) require 378 runs to win after the Wellington Firebirds declared at 282/8 (second innings; Michael Papps 60, Tom Blundell 43, Fraser Colson career best 97, Anurag Verma 33 not out; Mark Craig 5-79)
Fraser Colson's bittersweet 97 may not have been the maiden century he would have hoped for, but it went a long way towards getting his side into an advantageous position against their talent-stacked hosts heading into the last day in Queenstown.
The Central stunner of a day which hit 28 degrees in the shade began with Luke Woodcock and skipper Michael Papps extending their opening stand to 60.
But just as they looked to be in charge of the morning, the Volts began eating through the top order — starting with Woodcock, who fell to Craig Smith. Then Papps lost Stephen Murdoch and first-innings centurion Scott Borthwick at the other end in quick succession, just before lunch: this time Borthwick had gone for a three-ball duck, and at the interval it was 98/3.
But the Firebirds had already built a lead of 206, and Papps already had got past 50.
Spinner Mark Craig had got himself on a roll, however, for the Volts and he would claim Papps himself as his third victim after the interval.
Tom Blundell (43 off 112 balls) and Fraser Colson (97 off 144), who was playing in his first Plunket Shield match in two seasons, helped settle things down for a period with a 50 partnership.
Blundell's fall triggered another couple of wickets, however the handy Anurag Verma was good enough to stick with Colson as he moved smartly into the nineties.
Colson's maiden first-class 50 had arrived off 106 balls, and it seemed to invigorate his confidence — his next 47 runs taking just 32 deliveries as the Firebirds looked for a timely declaration.
Jacob Duffy would be the man to stop him, Jimmy Neesham collecting the catch; and the delcaration was affirmed at 282 for eight — a target of 391 for the Volts.
Mark Craig had meanwhile surged on to his fifth first-class five-wicket bag, four of which have been on behalf of the Volts. Remarkably it was the third five-for of this match.
Brad Wilson was the Volt to fall in the last stanza of the day, departing scoreless to Dane Hutchinson.
Stumps score: Wellington Firebirds 7/0 (second innings) lead by 115 after dismissing SBS Bank Otago Volts for 240 (Hamish Rutherford 70, Sam Wells 51; Brent Arnel 5-59, Alecz Day 3-48) at Queenstown Events Centre, 6 February 2016. Earlier on day two Wellington Firebirds extended their first innings to 348 (Scott Borthwick 102, Dane Hutchinson 30; Neil Wagner 5-101)
After a big day one, debutant Scott Borthwick was not permitted to add to his overnight score of 102, Jacob Duffy getting in on the wicket action at last by picking him up caught behind in the first over of day two.
It would take a further 17 overs to wrap up the Firebirds' innings, Neil Wagner collecting debutant Matt Bacon en route to his fourteenth first-class five-wicket bag for the Volts, among 21 overall.
But it was just not before the debutant and Dane Hutchinson had irritated the heck out of the Volts' attack by adding a very useful 61-run stand for the ninth wicket, Bacon hitting two boundaries in his 23 and Hutchinson's 30 including five more.
The Firebirds' tail was finally stopped in their tracks at 348 after 113 eventful overs, and Volts captain and opener Hamish Rutherford made sure his side got off to a good reply with a hand of 70.
But the Firebirds' maestro Brent Arnel had already taken out his opening partner Brad Wilson to make it 67/1, and then bowled a cheap Michael Bracewell to make it 70/2 before he claimed Rutherford after tea to complete the top order set en route to what would become Arnel's 13th five-wicket bag, his fourth for the Firebirds.
Besides Rutherford, who had departed lbw in the 47th over, the only other Volt to crack 50 would be Sam Wells as they crumbled to 240 all out in 65.4 overs, 20 Firebirds extras helping their tally.
The Firebirds' opening duo of Michael Papps and Luke Woodcock then safely navigated a tricky five-over period before stumps to be seven without loss at the close of play.
Stumps score: Wellington Firebirds 280/7 (Michael Papps 85, Scott Borthwick 102 not out; Neil Wagner 4-69) at Queenstown Events Centre, 5 February 2016
When both Michael Papps and Luke Woodcock got off the mark with boundaries, it was probably always going to be a decent day for the Wellington Firebirds as they took on a strong SBS Bank Otago Volts on a stunning day in Queenstown.
There could have been no better setting, framed by The Remarkables under a clear blue sky, to feel invigorated about starting the last seven rounds of Plunket Shield, brought to you by Budget Rental, that will close out the season.
Well placed after the pre-Christmas rounds, the Firebirds had won the toss, were looking forward to a bat in the sunshine and, by the end of the day, would have even more reasons to smile, celebrating a maiden hundred on Firebirds debut for their Durham import Scott Borthwick.
Borthwick has been ‘wintering’ away from County cricket in Wellington and, in December, had played one game of Georgie Pie Super Smash for his ‘Birds’ debut. But with more than 100 first-class caps to his name, and a smattering in all three formats for England at full international level, utilising the 25-year-old allrounder’s first-class experience for the Plunket Shield was a no-brainer.
His first day on the job was an instant hit.
Borthwick’s maiden ton for Wellington was his 11th first-class century in total, and he brought it up by slamming Neil Wagner into the legside rope, which was his 13th boundary of the day.
After a watchful beginning as he built his innings block by block, Borthwick ended the day unbeaten on 102, having helped the Firebirds reach 280 for seven after 95 overs by stumps.
But Wagner had chastened their day by taking our three quick wickets in the space of six balls, all while Borthwick had been in the nineties — the first being his hand in a run out, followed by Anurag Verma and Alecz Day both departing scoreless as “Wags” zeroed in.
The late storm put the BLACKCAP on the cusp of a potential five-wicket bag with four for 60 (4-69 overnight) which, if completed on day two, will be his 14th for the Otago Volts.
It had been Wagner who had made the first breakthrough of the day when he demolished Woodcock's off stump on 12 to stop the opening stand at 44/1, then he gave Stephen Murdoch the same treatment after the first drop played on after having made a good start with 36.
It was frustrating for the Firebirds, Murdoch and Papps in the throes of a good partnership that was already worth 70 runs, Papps having brought up his half-century and the boundaries beginning to come regularly.
Wagner and Jacob Duffy hunted together for that crucial next wicket, before spinner Mark Craig was eventually introfuced for the 45th over just before drinks, the Firebirds well placed at 139 for two at the refreshments.
Captain Papps, who had been joined by Borthwick in the 31st over, patiently fought onwards for his 85, during which time he posted his 3000th first-class run for the Firebirds in a tally that now stands at more than 10,500 overall: higher than any other active Plunket Shield player.
Canterbury captain Peter Fulton is the closest, needing just under a further 400 runs this season to join Papps in the elite 1000 first-class career runs club.
Like Borthwick, Matt Bacon (first-class debut) and ex-Knight Anurag Verma are also making their first Plunket Shield appearance for the Firebirds in this round.
Borthwick would lose Papps before he reached his half century, having struck six boundaries en route; but would maintain his composure through the day, even when stumps clattered regularly while he was in the "nervous nineties" on debut, as the Firebirds plummeted from 265/4 to 266/7 in the space of six balls.