Cricket: Otago wins 12th match in succession

Vaughn Johnson
Vaughn Johnson
Otago kept its winning streak alive with a comprehensive 10-wicket win against Auckland at the University Oval yesterday.

But while the margin of victory suggests the game was one-way traffic, it felt like the Volts spent the last day and a-half waiting for the lights to turn green.

Auckland put up more fight in its second innings, reaching 351 and forcing Otago to bat again.

Craig Cachopa top-scored with 81 and Gareth Hopkins was solid getting through to 74.

Tail-ender Michael Bates added to Otago's frustration with an unbeaten 46 at No 9. He whacked a six over wide long-on to help his side avoid an innings defeat.

Still, the home side needed just four runs and Aaron Redmond smacked the first delivery through the covers for a boundary to seal the victory.

It brought a merciful end to a day which seemed to drag. Otago all-rounder Sam Wells was the pick of the bowlers. He hit a good length and got the ball to swing. He worked tirelessly and finished with the reward of four for 74 from 34 overs. He went searching for a fifth wicket, bowling an 11-over spell in an attempt to reach the milestone.

Instead, spinner Nick Beard claimed Auckland's final wicket, trapping Bhupinder Singh leg before wicket for seven. Beard, of course, played a major role in the victory with a scarcely believable innings of 188 coming in as a nightwatchman late on day one.

He also featured in an Otago record fourth-wicket partnership with Neil Broom (103) of 239. And strike bowler Neil Wagner took five wickets on the opening day to help dismiss Auckland for 221.

Otago has won its past 12 games of cricket (nine twenty/20 games, three Plunket Shield games) in a row but rival Central Districts has also kept winning its first-class fixtures and remains at the top of the competition table with 124 points.

A month ago, Central had a 17-point buffer but Otago (115 points) has pruned the lead to nine points after picking up maximum (eight) bonus points in two of its past three games.

With just one round remaining, Otago has to win its game against Wellington at the Basin Reserve beginning on Wednesday and hope Central Districts fails to win its match with Northern Districts in Nelson.

It is a shame Central and Otago are not playing each other but both games shape as a sort of proxy final anyway, Otago coach Vaughn Johnson said.

''It really comes down to a final now. We must win and if CD slip up then ...'', Johnson said trailing off.

What he did not add was Otago would win its second title this summer.

Otago did the one-day and first-class double in 1987-88 and this team could match that effort having already won the twenty/20 tournament earlier this year.

''There will certainly be no fear from us going into the game. We'll be trying to win the game right from the first session and will be going to Wellington with no other option but to win the game.''

Black Caps Ian Butler and Hamish Rutherford will come back into the mix after a stint with the national twenty/20 side.

Johnson said conditions at the Basin Reserve tend to lean themselves to playing an extra seamer, so Butler's inclusion may come at the expense of either Mark Craig or Beard. It would be hard to drop Beard after his efforts with the bat. He was also very tidy with the ball. He bowled 17 overs in Auckland's second innings and 10 of them were maidens, whereas Craig was the most expensive of the Otago bowlers. While Otago is in a purple patch, Johnson said his team struggled yesterday.

''It was a tough day. Our bowlers were starting to hurt a bit after a reasonably long season.

''I don't think we executed quite as well as we have in the past. The unit got the job done but it would have been nice to do it earlier - that's all.''