WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS v OTAGO VOLTS
First innings bonus points
Result: Wellington Firebirds won by an innings and 101 runs
Total points this round: Wellington Firebirds 20, Otago Volts 1
The Otago Volts were quickly up against it after having been forced to follow on, routed for 190 in the first innings while chasing the Firebirds' 509 for five declared.
A comical runout neatly summarised their situation, and fortunes, on what proved to be the final day.
As the batsmen, Nathan Smith and Michael Rippon, were running what should have been an easy two off Hamish Bennett, first one and then the other slipped over, resulting in Smith traipsing scoreless back to the Vance Stand with his side 115 for seven.
Bennett had been the chief beneficiary with his four wickets knocking off four of the top five. Rippon's late order 47 proved the top score for the Volts before he departed caught off Malcolm Nofal to end the first innings in the morning session, and the Firebirds helped themselves to maximum bonus points for the match.
By tea, batting again, the southerners' backs were once again against the wall: 76 for five in their second dig, still trailing by 243 runs, and unbeaten new keeper-batsman Mitch Renwick having led the way with just 26 by his name on The Don Neely Scoreboard, Smith once again at the crease as his partner.
Renwick scrabbled to 46 before he was claimed by Bennett. The wickets kept clattering and, at 176 for nine, the Volts were clinging on by a millimetre, nine overs left for the Firebirds to wrap it up with a day to spare.
Michael Rippon was holding out on 32* and desperately trying to keep number eleven Warren Barnes off strike. The last stand once again kicked on for the Volts, however, Rippon sweeping Jeetan Patel to the fence to post a half century off just 63 balls, and Barnes chipping in, only a handful of overs now left to see it out for the day.
But with just six balls left in the day's allotment, Jimmy Neesham finally sorted out the tailender. Barnes wafted a straightforward caught behind to ensure no one would have to come back for more in the morning.
The last wicket confirmed a victory by an innings and 101 runs, plus the full 20 available points for the Wellington Firebirds who rose to interim second on the points table. Not bad work after having been sent in!
Within half an hour the Central Stags had also wrapped up an early victory to reclaim the top slot, and in Christchurch Norther Districts were on course for their own full haul of points in the one match set to go the distance.
However, the shots had been fired: last season's frontrunners and, ultimately, bridesmaids the Wellington Firebirds were not to be toyed with this season.
The Plunket Shield now takes a break with The Ford Trophy beginning on Wednesday against Canterbury at the Basin.
For the second time in the space of two games in the new season, the Otago Volts took the field under a new captain after a family bereavement saw Mark Craig miss the round two match. It meant Jacob Duffy took the skipper's armband in his 50th first-class appearance at just a shade past his 24th birthday, electing to bowl first after winning his first toss.
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Nathan Smith continued to impress with the ball as he picked up two early wickets, but the going soon got tough for the Volts as first drop Devon Conway and their erstwhile teammate Michael Bracewell, now the capital captain, dug in.
The pair both raised their half centuries after lunch and soldiered on to put on 188 together for the third wicket before Bracewell finally relented on 87, edging behind off spinner Michael Rippon.
By tea, the Firebirds were in a strong position at 238 for three, Jimmy Neesham the new partner for Conway who went to the break on 88 not out. Neesham would become Duffy's first victim in the match as Malcolm Nofal arrived at the crease looking to shepherd Conway to three figures.
Conway duly celebrated his 15th first-class century (second for the Firebirds) as the pair charged on towards the 300 for a third batting bonus point, Duffy by now having shuffled through seven bowlers, including himself, trying to stop the damage.
At the 80-over mark he and Smith at least tempered on the scoring rate with the new ball, but the effect was temporary. By stumps Conway had guided the hosts to 348 for four, requiring just two further runs for the full four batting bonuses. He would head back out in the morning ready to resume on 131*, having already ticked off his century-stand with Nofal (60*).