The Wellington Firebirds are now in control of their own destiny heading into the final two rounds of the 2019/20 Plunket Shield national championship.
The Firebirds are looking to lift the historic shield for the first time since 2004, and a shock Otago Volts victory — their first Plunket Shield win against the Central Stags since February 2011 — this afternoon has ensured they will now take a 26-point advantage into next week’s penultimate round when they will meet the under-pressure defending champions at Napier’s McLean Park.
Whilst the Stags did enough to lift themselves into second spot (overtaking the Auckland Aces in this round, the Aucklanders picking up just two bonus points from their innings defeat to the Firebirds), they had needed the 12 outright points on offer in their weather-shortened match in Dunedin in order to stay within 20 points of the Firebirds — the maximum number of points available per round.
They certainly made a game of it, the match boiling down to a thrilling run chase for the underestimated Volts, while the Stags had needed just three more wickets in the last half hour.
Having arrived at the crease with his side 139 for five just before tea, Michael Rippon coolly guided his side home with the winning boundary to finish unbeaten on 95*, off 111 balls — and even with a handful of overs to spare.
A brazen unbeaten century from Central Stag Will Young (133* off 118 balls) had earlier been the highlight of a fast-moving morning session, the Stags determined to make up for lost time in the match and to set the Volts a target with enough time to attempt to bowl them out.
They declared at 256 for two, requiring the Volts to find 288 from just over two sessions for the three-wicket win.
The Volts have had a tough time of it against the Stags in the Plunket Shield in recent years — going down in innings defeats in both of last season’s encounters, but today they turned the tables on their foe to deny them a crucial victory.
The southerners’ second victory on the bounce, it also lifted the traditional red-ball easybeats from the familiar dark recesses of the lower end of the table all the way up to third — leapfrogging both Canterbury and the Auckland Aces to sit just two points behind the Stags, whom they will meet again in the season’s final round in Napier.
Earlier in the day, the Firebirds had wrapped up their 18-point victory by an innings and seven runs at Auckland’s Colin Maiden Park, captain and occasional spinner Michael Bracewell delighting in his maiden five-wicket bag.
A five-wicket bag to Northern Districts spinner Joe Walker then sealed an impressive victory for the hosts in the other match in Hamilton, against Canterbury at Seddon Park — achieved without the services of allrounder Daryl Mitchell whose foot injury from the opening day has ruled him out for the remainder of the season.
Canterbury folded for just 172 in the final innings to hand ND a victory by 181 runs.
Although a soothing result after their heartbreaking, last-over loss in the previous round against the Aces, ND nevertheless becomes the first side to fall out of contention for this season’s title, sitting 41 points behind the leader with just 40 points left on the table.
Weather permitting, round seven of eight begins on Wednesday next week with the Stags needing to beat the Firebirds in Napier; the Volts off to play Canterbury at Hagley Oval; and the Auckland Aces heading to ND’s Cobham Oval in Whangarei.
Points after Round Six (points accrued in this round in brackets)
Wellington Firebirds 83 (+18)
Central Stags 57 (+5)
Otago Volts 55 (+18)
Auckland Aces 54 (+2)
Canterbury 45 (+5)
Northern Districts 42 (+18)
Competition Winner: Wellington Firebirds
|1 –||Wellington Firebirds||6||4||1||1||0||0||0||0||15||20||83||5.34|
|4||L van Beek||19|