A career best in a long awaited return | PHOTOSPORT

Bracewell brilliance puts Firebirds top again


A stunning performance from the Wellington Firebirds' BLACKCAP Michael Bracewell put the Wellington Firebirds back in charge of the national championship, with a day to spare in the current round.

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 this afternoon to ensure the Wellington Firebirds took an innings victory over the Otago Volts, with a day to spare.

Not only that, but it was the veteran's first match back in the first-class Plunket Shield arena this summer after having recovered from a significant injury.


Having moved, several years ago, towards becoming a spinning allrounder in order to increase his chance of BLACKCAPS selection, the big off-spinner's previous first-class best had been 5/43.

He'd done that in 2019/20 - the first season he began to bowl at first-class level, having previously played for nine seasons as a batsman only, for the Volts and then Firebirds.

Now he led the way as he almost single-handedly bowled out the Otago Volts for just 99, in 27.4 overs of torment in their second innings.

To put it in further context, his 8/41 makes Wellington's all-time top 10 bowling performances in first-class cricket, in a competition that's been going since 1906/07.

The Wellington spinners – Bracewell and leg-spinning accomplice Peter Younghusband (2/27) – took all 10 wickets to fall, and 15 for the match between them, after Younghusband's bag in the first innings.

The result gives the Firebirds the maximum 20 points for the match, returning them to the top of the table where they currently hold a four-point (interim) lead over former leader Northern Districts.

Northern Districts will reclaim that lead should they beat Canterbury in Rangiora, but ND still has a big job to do - they will head into the last day in Rangiora at 235/6 in their second innings, leading Canterbury by 72 overall, with just four wickets in hand - after Tim Seifert departed shortly before stumps, soon after having reached his half century (51). 

Seifert became Michael Rae's 150th first-class victim in the process, with the Northern lower order needing to fire tomorrow morning to stave off Canterbury in a crucial match.


After having top-scored with 65 for his side in the first innings and then taken his 12th first-class five wicket bag (10th for ND), Scott Kuggeleijn will resume the innings unbeaten on 29*, alongside recognised batter Sandeep Patel who scored a century in just his second first-class match, earlier this season.

Back to the Basin. The Firebirds' victory in Wellington meanwhile sets up a must-see last match in Hamilton from Sunday when they will be taking on ND, the two frontrunners for this season's national title going head-to-head.

Bracewell twice put himself on a hat-trick (unconverted) today during his star turn, and he rocked the Volts by taking three wickets – Thorn Parkes, Dale Phillips and captain Dean Foxcroft for a golden duck – in a game-changing, chaotic eighth over from which the remainder of the Volts line-up never recovered.

The career-best performance comes less than a year after Bracewell was invalided out of the 2023 County Championship season in England, where he was playing as an overseas professional, with a ruptured right Achilles tendon – missing the BLACKCAPS' World Cup last year and more, before making his return to the first-class arena in the key match he has just helped to win by an innings and 42 runs.

Meanwhile in Napier, wicketkeeper-batter Dane Cleaver had a day to remember, breaking the Central Stags' all-time record for first-class dismissals that was previously held by another Manawatū stalwart, Bevan Griggs.

Cleaver had begun the day at McLean Park needing one more dismissal to equal Griggs's record of 232, and two to set a new mark outright - which he did in style with a superb leg-side take to dismiss another former Manawatū and Central Stags representative (now representing the Auckland Aces), George Worker.


Griggs said he was thrilled to see his record fall.

"Dane deserves to lead the way. He's been remarkable for the Central Districts Association and it's a testament to his longevity.

"Like myself, he's also benefited from a great seam attack, and above all he's a great person."

The Stags and Aces left the field for bad light on the third afternoon with the Aces 176/4 in their second innings, leading overall by 76 runs with six wickets in hand.

The Stags snaffled two further wickets in between getting back on again, and coming back off again for bad light again, which ended play shortly before 6.40PM.

The Auckland Aces will resume on 225/6 on the final day, leading by just 125 overall with four wickets in hand after having lost both captain Robbie O'Donnell (42) and Cam Fletcher (38) in the last session, and the Stags needing an outright to stay in contention for the title.

Earlier, Mark Chapman gave his Aces side much needed impetus with a breezy top score of 83 off just 64 balls, including 14 boundaries and a six.

Video scorecards and free livestreams at NZC YouTube, and livescoring at www.nzc.nz and on the NZC app.


10.30am, Saturday 16 to Tuesday 19 March, 2024

First innings Bonus Points from Round 7
Northern Districts 3 
Wellington Firebirds 8
Central Stags 7
Canterbury 7 
Otago Volts 6 
Auckland Aces 5








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