Cricket: Otago ahead but pitch a concern

Otago batsman Darren Broom gets an edge to first slip and is caught by Canterbury captain Peter Fulton (left) during the second day of the Plunket Shield match at the University Oval yesterday. The wicketkeeper is Brad Cachopa. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Otago batsman Darren Broom gets an edge to first slip and is caught by Canterbury captain Peter Fulton (left) during the second day of the Plunket Shield match at the University Oval yesterday. The wicketkeeper is Brad Cachopa. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Otago promised more but delivered less on a day when missed opportunities stole the limelight.

The home team managed a token first innings lead of 18 runs, reaching 272 to overhaul Canterbury's first innings total of 254.

But with the University Oval pitch starting to break up and the ball bouncing in unpredictable fashion, batting will just get harder and harder.

Otago has to bat last on the surface and would have wanted a decent buffer. The more the merrier comes to mind.

Canterbury coach Gary Stead charitably suggested the game was evenly poised going into day three.

"I think it is pretty even but Otago got more than we would have liked after the start we had," Stead said.

"But they fought hard. I thought Mark Craig and Ian Butler, in particular, batted well for them.

"At the end, a deficit of 18 runs was more important to us than being two or three down at stumps. I was surprised they didn't pull out when they were nine down and have a crack at us."

Stead said the key for his side today would be to put together a meaningful partnership and keep battling away.

"If it [the pitch] continues to get worse, then anything we get has to be chased down. One big partnership could turn the match and put the game in our favour.

"We definitely didn't want to bat last on this wicket. It was a tough decision to bat first because it had been under covers for 24 hours. But at the end of the day we think our spinners are good enough to take wickets on the last day."

Otago's Hamish Rutherford looked in fine touch early. He was quick to punish width and anything over-tossed got driven down the ground. And the ease at which he ramped a delivery from Willie Lonsdale over gully for a boundary would have inspired the Otago camp.

Fellow opener Aaron Redmond (15), though, was more circumspect and just could not seem to get set. He was caught in two minds. Instead of really attacking a full delivery from Lonsdale, he pushed out at it and edged it to second slip.

After making a bright start, Rutherford's innings of 46 lost momentum and ultimately he squandered an opportunity.

But it was Michael Bracewell who was next to go. He was undone by a turning delivery from improving off-spinner Tim Johnston. The captain, Peter Fulton, took the catch.

Rutherford followed shortly after, chopping a delivery from Ben McCord on to his stumps.

The medium-pacer was doing a wonderful job on a lifeless deck. He removed Neil Broom lbw for a duck with a cracking yorker.

Suddenly, Otago had lost three wickets for three runs and at lunch was 89 for four.

If Otago had been contemplating a lead by stumps, then thoughts quickly turned to rebuilding the innings.

But Johnson trapped the Otago captain, Derek de Boorder, lbw after the break.

The batsman got caught playing from the crease once too often.

Jimmy Neesham offered hope with a sparkling innings of 40 and Mark Craig also added a valuable 40 as Otago crept closer to a first innings lead.

Ian Butler (41) made sure of a small lead with a combination of his usual power hitting and some memorable shots through the covers, where he rocked back and gapped the ball nicely.

For Canterbury, Lonsdale was honest with two for 59 and McCord bustled in for two for 49. But Johnson stood out with three for 88 from 39 overs. He shapes as a key man tomorrow should Canterbury set Otago a reasonable target.