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