Turning it on: Michael Bracewell | PHOTOSPORT

How the Firebirds got into pole for the Plunket Shield

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WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS beat the OTAGO VOLTS by an innings & 42 runs

Cello Basin Reserve, Wellington

16-18 March 2024


Wellington Firebirds: 20

Canterbury: 19

Auckland Aces: 17

Central Stags: 7

Otago Volts: 6

Northern Districts: 3



Tim Parlane (above) - last match as first-class umpire

Dale Phillips - 2000 first-class runs, fifth first-class century

Peter Younghusband - second first-class five-wicket bag

Dean Foxcroft - second first-class five-wicket bag, career best

Michael Bracewell - second first-class five-wicket bag, career best, 10th best figures in Wellington history


This penultimate round began with the Wellington Firebirds not quite in control of their own destiny in the Plunket Shield.

Northern Districts sat ahead of them on the points table - and a Northern win could have sewn up the Shield's destination, with a match to spare.

The Firebirds were meanwhile fresh off salvaging a draw against the Central Stags, who had bullied them in Palmerston North and very nearly beaten them.

It was now or never for the Firebirds to stake their claim, and they did it in style - in a match that saw a remarkable treble of bags, the best saved for the last innings.


Despite a century and bag of their own, the Otago Volts ran smack into Michael Bracewell, in his first red-ball match for the Firebirds all summer, and came out stinging from a bruising defeat inside three days.

The following day, Northern was beaten by Canterbury - idyllically setting up a 'Plunket Shield final' between the Firebirds and ND in the last round in Hamilton.


It felt like winter had arrived early in the capital. On a chilly, bowl-first autumn morning, Wellington Firebirds captain Tom Blundell sent in the Otago Volts, and ended the day with all four bowling bonuses in his kitty.

At 111/2 by lunch, the Volts had started well enough. Dale Phillips had a healthy start of 40* and captain Dean Foxcroft was about to join him after the interval, Thorn Parkes having just been cut off on 62.

Parkes and Phillips understood each other well, and had spent the morning session constructing a century stand for the second wicket - after an early Nathan Smith breakthrough had continued young Jacob Cumming's frustrating trot.

But the middle session would send the visitors backwards.


Developing ever growing stickability, Phillips would still be there at tea, now needing just two more runs for a century. But, he'd lost four partners in the session and all to the Firebirds' flying leg-spinner, Peter Younghusband.

Foxcroft laboured for almost 40 minutes after lunch until he was outfoxed while playing a defensive shot, then Younghusband struck again in the following over with Jamal Todd and Luke Georgeson departing off successive deliveries: no hat but a double wicket maiden meaning the Volts were now far more vulnerable at 143/5.

The Firebirds knew they had won a big moment in the innings when he got their former team-mate Georgeson for a golden duck, after Georgeson's game-breaker career best feats with bat and ball in recent times. It may not have been earthquake weather, but the capital cared not for that and even a jolty, magnitude 4.6 earthquake couldn’t rattle the hosts as they reclaimed the upper hand on Day One.


Max Chu survived the hat-trick ball. He would be one of just four Volts batters to reach double figures as the Firebirds bundled them out in 83.5 overs for 280.

He gave Phillips some support with a knock of 35 before he was caught behind off Younghusband, while attempting an extravagant sweep just before tea. Keeper Tom Blundell saw it coming and that was that as he nicked it down the leg side.

Long-serving Younghusband went on to get just his second bag in the Plunket Shield, finishing with 5/65 after adding Travis Muller in the final session.


Phillips's knock was the mainstay of the Volts' ship as they sailed into ever stormier seas, the first drop reaching 127 in almost five hours in the middle of the chilly ground before finally succumbing, at 275/9, to Logan van Beek.

By stumps, Georgeson had extracted some revenge against the hosts by quickly nabbing their first two wickets, the Firebirds set to begin Day Two at 35/2, trailing by 245.


The Volts fought back, but it would not be enough to keep the team alive in the championship: by the end of the day, first innings points across the Plunket Shield landscape meant the southerners became the second team, after the still winless Auckland Aces, to formally drop out of the running.

Northern Districts was by now sitting on an interim tally of 83 points, and with the Volts now able to reach a maximum of 81 after first innings bonus point considerations, it was curtains drawn on their campaign.

Captain Dean Foxcroft provided the star turn on the second day at the Basin with a stunning haul of 6/49.

As he ripped through the host's lower order, it was the strong spinning allrounder's second career bag in first-class cricket, the Firebirds disintegrating in a hurry.

Earlier, the productive first drop Gareth Severin (105) continued his strongest season yet for the Firebirds.


Filing away his runs with accountant accuracy, Severin's third Plunket Shield century -105 off 178 balls - provided two thirds of a meaty 166-run partnership for the third wicket with Younghusband, who now stood up with the bat as well.

Younghusband's career best in the format was 97, from his very first season, 2016/17. He'd never got as close to a maiden century in all his matches since - but now he had another shot at it.


Cricket is a cruel master, however. Just when he dared think he had a rare chance of a century and bag in the same match, the proposition went west when he was done by Jacob Duffy's in-ducker on 80.

Nevertheless, he and Severin had done the hard yakka, and helped the Firebirds get into a position to snaffle three of the four available batting bonus points by stumps - despite Foxcroft wheeling in with his regular wickets through the lower order.


Foxcroft started with Severin himself. He had been caught behind at 191/3 in the middle session, then the Volts captain took four more after tea.

The Firebirds would be heading into the last day with just one first-innings wicket remaining, at 338/9 - with a fourth batting point still on offer if they could hold on to reach 350 by 110 overs.


No one saw it coming. The penultimate day of the last game at the Cello Basin Reserve this season turned out to be the last day - after a simply stunning bowling performance from Michael Bracewell that put the Firebirds back in charge of the national Plunket Shield championship with just the one game to go.


The 33-year-old scion of one of New Zealand cricket's most famous cricket families took a career-best 8/41 off just 11.4 overs at the Cello Basin Reserve to give the Firebirds an innings victory, with a day to spare.

Veteran Bracewell had moved, several years ago, towards becoming a spinning allrounder in order to increase his chance of BLACKCAPS selection, and his previous career best had stemmed from that first season with the ball: 5/43 in 2019/20 - having played for nine seasons as a batsman only until then, for the Volts and then the Firebirds.

Now his career-best performance came less than a year after he had been invalided out of the 2023 County Championship season in England (where he was playing as an overseas professional) with a ruptured right Achilles tendon – a major injury, missing the BLACKCAPS' World Cup last year, and more.


He'd returned during the white-ball season for the Firebirds - only to injure himself again (a finger, this time). Seize the day, as they say. On his long awaited return to the first-class arena in the key match, he sat in the sheds on the third afternoon toasting a win by an innings and 42 runs.

He had led the way all day, shocking the Otago Volts, bundling them out for just 99 in 27.4 overs in their second innings, with his new career best a proud eight-for.

The Wellington spinners – Bracewell and Younghusband (2/27) had taken all 10 wickets to fall - and 15 for the match between them, after Younghusband's own bag earlier in the victory.

The result catapulted the Wellingtonians back to the top of the table with the full 20 points, and that created a four-point lead over deposed Northern Districts who were meanwhile under pressure against Canterbury in Rangiora, on the way to a loss.

Bracewell twice put himself on a hat-trick (twice unconverted) during his star turn. On his well earned day off, during a round of golf with his teammate Logan van Beek, he scored a hole in one at Paraparaumu, on the renowned 16th.

He rocked the Volts by taking three wickets – Parkes, Phillips; and Foxcroft for a golden duck – in a game-changing eighth over. The rattled Volts never recovered from the chaos, the dressing room door swinging too fast for anyone to compose themselves.

Northern was on notice: this championship was not sewn up, yet.






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