OTAGO VOLTS defeated WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS by three wickets
University of Otago Oval, Dunedin
9-12 March 2019
First innings bonus points
Bowling: Otago Volts 4 (maximum achieved), Wellington Firebirds 4 (maximum achieved)
Batting: Wellington Firebirds 2 (completed), Otago Volts 2 (completed)
Total points this round: Otago Volts 18, Wellington Firebirds 6
Coming off an innings defeat, the Otago Volts continued their quest for a first win of a tough first-class season, starting with a big morning for the hosts in Dunedin.
For the Firebirds, Tom Blundell was already set on a half century, but he lost his seventh-wicket partner Ollie Newton after the first hour, Jacob Duffy getting him caught in the deep.
Newton (19) had assisted Blundell in getting the Firebirds past the 200 mark. Now, with the Firebirds' interim lead at 226*, if the Volts could take another couple of quick wickets it would bring the southerners right back into the game.
Just two overs down the track, Matt Bacon continued his barnstorming performance, claiming his ninth for the match when a wafting Jeetan Patel was caught behind: 236 for eight.
Blundell had reached 90* when a 50-run ninth-wicket stand with Iain McPeake (20) came to a halt, McPeake caught in the deep to give Bacon 10 for the match.
New man Hamish Bennett took it upon himself to support Blundell to three figures, the number eleven punching two effective, if slightly ungainly, boundaries off Duffy to post the Firebirds' 300. A single off the penultimate ball of the over returned Blundell to the strike, who showed how it's done, advancing down the pitch to smite a four to take him to 99*.
Bennett now had to deal with Warren Barnes, and managed a single off the first ball.
Blundell then answered with a single off his own next ball to raise his fifth century for the Firebirds (152 balls, 226 mins, 14 x fours) and sixth of his overall first-class career.
The declaration at nine down promptly followed, setting the Volts a chase of 307 to win with just over two sessions remaining. Bacon (above) finished 4-71 for a match analysis of 10-144, with Duffy picking up 3-88.
The Volts now knew exactly what they needed to do if they were to break their season duck, but it was still anyone's game. They would head to lunch having made a fair start at 44 for one. Cam Hawkins had fallen early to Ritchie, but powerhouse Hamish Rutherford was still there, another 263 required.
By tea, they had lost only another two wickets but Rutherford had been one of the victims. Given out leg before to Rachin Ravindra on 45, it was a gutting blow to the luckless opener. He had been enjoying a second-wicket stand with Mitch Renwick that reached 80 runs. Renwick had been struggling for runs, but now the top order man looked to be back in the groove.
After losing Rutherford, Renwick moved the score from 107 for two to 149 before Bennett enticed a catch. Renwick was gone on 66, his best score for Otago by 20 runs, just shy of his career best of 71 for the Central Stags. The breakthrough innings eluded him one more time, but he had played his part.
The foundation was built, if the Volts middle order could settle in. Now the experienced pair of Brad Wilson and Anaru Kitchen got starts of 36 and 31 respectively, holding the fort for almost an hour and a half together until Bennett and Patel claimed them both in quick succession.
At 209 for five, the Volts needed a further 98 runs. Had they forgotten how to win? Or would this be the evening they finally got to sing the song in whites again? Number six Nathan Smith (above) was in form, they still had hope. He was joined by Christi Viljoen, another player capable of giving it some tap if they needed to pick up the pace (and they did).
Together they reached their 50-stand off 64 balls: another 48 runs and they would get across the line. Patel was meanwhile going through his box of tricks at one end in a marathon spell; the pacemen taking turns at the other.
The shadows were getting long across the ground, but boundaries were beginning to flow freely until, with just 23 runs left to find, Viljoen was caught trying to smash the ball on the leg-side. It ended a lively 75-run stand for the sixth wicket.
Newbie Max Chu joined Smith on 37*. When he found the fence off Newton, the Volts' target was down to 13 runs, three overs remaining in the schedule. Surely, this time? Chu took a two off Patel to push them past 300 on the board. Just the six runs needed now. But last ball of the over, Patel had his wicket.
The batsmen having crossed, captain Duffy would face the next over against Newton and got off the mark immediately. Another single next ball for Smith: four to win, now. And another Duffy single. The watching Volts, who had been on tenterhooks in the player's glasshouse, began to relax. A dot ball, and then Smith smashed the winning boundary. A win by three wickets, a win at last for the Otago Volts in the first-class season of 2018/19.
The song was a good one. They will get another crack at home, too, in the final match next week against the Auckland Aces to finish the season.
Losing three wickets in the last three overs before lunch saw the Volts bowled out in the first session, for a first-innings lead for exactly one run. It was a rapid denouement, the Firebirds mopping up the tail for 285 after the Volts had been chugging away nicely at 267 for five.
The departure of Christi Viljoen on 44, after an hour and a half at the crease, turned the tide and was Hamish Bennett's 250th first-class dismissal to boot. Bennett would go on to pick up a fourth wicket in the innings, and the last main obstacle, in Nathan Smith (46) just four overs later.
Bennett had support from across the attack, with the match very much even Stevens at lunch on the third day.
By tea, the cheap loss of Devon Conway shortly before the second interval took the gloss off the session somewhat for the Firebirds, their second dig paused at 84 for two. Opener Rachin Ravindra was nearing a half century, but Ravindra was out early in the third session for 49, Bacon picking up his eighth wicket of the match at 93 for three.
Michael Bracewell's departure on 23 brought Jimmy Neesham to the middle at 130 for four, a lead of 129. By stumps, that lead had grown to 198 with Tom Blundell to resume the last day on 57*. He will be beginning a new partnership, however, with Neesham and Andrew Fletcher both having been removed at low cost.
The Volts will enter day three at 200 for four, trailing by just 84 runs in their first innings.
They had started a pretty good day by wrapping up the one remaining Firebirds wicket, Matt Bacon adding to his maiden five-wicket bag the previous day to finish with 6-73 off his 16.5 overs. Hamish Bennett was his final victim with number seven Andrew Fletcher left unbeaten on 50*.
Replying to the Firebirds' 284 all out, the hosts made a solid start with Hamish Rutherford and patient Cam Hawkins putting on 89 for the first wicket. Hawkins carried on to reach his fourth first-class fifty in his five matches to date.
Master spinner Jeetan Patel ultimately outfoxed them both, however, Hawkins stopped on 59. First drop Mitch Renwick made his way positively to 46, but would be denied his own half ton by Bennett who had him caught at slip. Jimmy Neesham also picked up a wicket before Anaru Kitchen (23*) and Nathan Smith (12*) steered the Volts through to stumps.
A five-wicket bag to Matt Bacon got Otago Volts hearts beating as they embarked on two home matches to finish their first-class summer.
Yet to get a win in the four-day format, the Volts were back at the scene of the season's white ball Ford Trophy Grand Final against the side that had come up with the goods on that big occasion, and now they hoped for some hometown revenge with the red ball.
The Volts were already out of contention in the race for the Plunket Shield, and the Firebirds' hopes were faint, but both teams had points to prove as Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell won the toss and batted.
It was a torrid first hour, however, for the visitors who quickly found themselves three down for not much, with young Rachin Ravindra (caught for no score off Ben Smith), leading batsman of the summer Devon Conway (caught off Warren Barnes for four) and Bracewell himself (off pole ripped out by Bacon, also for no score) all back in the sheds at 30 for three.
Veteran Luke Woodcock at the top needed all of his experience to hang on but, with Tom Blundell, did a sterling job of rebuilding the innings. Both reached half centuries after lunch, in a fourth-wicket stand of 114.
After nearly four hours at the crease, Woodcock had reached 80 when Bacon angled one across his body and young keeper Max Chu, in just his second first-class appearance, flew full-length to his right to gobble up a good low catch. Confusion ensued as Woodcock stood his ground while the umpires consulted over whether Chu had indeed got his gloves under it, the Volts all the time in no doubt.
Eventually Woodcock had to trek back in, and from his loss at 144 for four, things went south for a period in the Firebirds' innings. Blundell was soon following him back in, caught off Bacon on 52. Then Jimmy Neesham, back in the team after illness in the previous round, became Bacon's fourth victim at 172 for six.
Bacon had taken a four-fa two rounds earlier, and had a first-class career-best of 4-31: now the big, bold paceman was in with a sniff for his first five-wicket bag, in his 11th Plunket Shield match. He didn't have to wait long, claiming Ollie Newton, caught popping up an edge off his next over, for his maiden bag.
Batting at seven, Andrew Fletcher survived through to stumps and will resume at 47* on day two. But the Firebirds will have just one wicket in hand, Warren Barnes and Christi Viljoen each having picked up one further wicket on the opening afternoon, with Viljoen stopping some late damage from Iain McPeake who slapped 34 in an 85-run ninth-wicket stand with Fletcher.