Cricket: Big money if Volts continue winning ways

Outwardly there is no sign of smiles but inwardly the Otago camp must be grinning from ear to ear.

The Volts have played some magnificent twenty/20 cricket and lead the tournament with four wins from five matches.

With three round-robin matches remaining, Otago is well-placed to secure a spot in the March 1 final.

While the side is probably still smarting following its loss to Northern Districts in the one-day final, a twenty/20 title would go a long way towards erasing that memory.

And with the titleholder expected to be invited to compete in the Champions League in India in October - where a cheque for more than $5 million awaits the winner - the stakes are high.

It is hard to find anyone prepared to talk about the money on the record.

But there is no doubt the prize money is a colossal incentive.

At full-strength, Otago shaped as a better than fair prospect of featuring during the business end of the New Zealand tournament.

But with Neil Broom and Craig Cumming called into the national one-day squad, and Nathan McCullum and Ian Butler the twenty/20 team, the top order, in particular, started to look a bit thin.

And after managing just one win from five matches last season, Otago went into the tournament as a dark horse, at best.

The batting, though, has been anything but weak.

Aaron Redmond and Hamish Rutherford have formed a formidable opening combination.

In five innings the pair have posted stands of 60, 125, 56, 25 and 63.

That has set an outstanding platform for the likes of power-hitters McCullum and English all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas to blast away, helping Otago post three 200-run plus totals.

Redmond is the competition's leading run scorer with 224 runs at an average of 44.80, and Rutherford trails him in second place with 201 runs at 40.20.

McCullum and Mascarenhas also feature high on the list in fourth and seventh place respectively.

The bowling and fielding has been of a high standard as well.

Otago has long been one of the best fielding units in the country but the bowling attack has operated with good discipline this season, giving little in the way of extras.

Veteran medium pacer Warren McSkimming has picked up nine wickets at an average of 15.22 and has been relatively parsimonious, conceding 7.61 runs an over.

Butler and Neil Wagner have also gone for less than eight runs an over.

With the University Oval's small boundaries, that is quite an achievement.

Otago has won all four of the matches in which it has batted first and should have beaten Auckland in its only loss.

The Volts needed 36 runs from six overs - a mere formality - but found a way to lose.

They have a chance to redeem that loss when they play Auckland in the final round-robin match at Eden Park Outer Oval.

Depending on other results, the outcome of the match could decide where the final is played.

The Volts' next match is against Central Districts at the University Oval tomorrow.

The defending champions have managed just one win this season and are all but out of contention.

Central remains a dangerous side, with the likes of Mathew Sinclair capable of turning a game.

However, Otago will welcome back Broom, Butler and Nathan McCullum.

Black Caps wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum has a shoulder injury and it is unlikely he will suit up for the match.

Otago's other round-robin game is against the winless Northern Districts in Mount Manganui on Friday.

The match is televised.

The run home for Otago

v Central Districts, February 18, University Oval

Dunedinv Northern Districts, February 20, Blake Park

Mount Maunganuiv Auckland, Eden Park Outer Oval, Auckland

Final March 1

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