Cricket: Bowlers key if Otago to secure win

Otago's four-day State Championship match with Wellington is evenly poised, with both sides eyeing up victory when the game concludes at the University Oval today.

Wellington was 74 for two when rain forced the players from the field at 2.13pm yesterday.

The visitors require 248 runs to win with eight second-innings wickets in hand.

With the ball dominating the bat during the first three days, it is tempting to think Otago has the upper hand.

But stand-in coach Mark Bracewell felt the game was in the balance.

"I'd have to say it's evenly poised," Bracewell said.

"The pitch is playing quite comfortably and, if they get themselves established, it could be quite hard to remove them."

If Wellington was to get up it would have to score the highest total of the game, so it still had plenty of work ahead, he added.

"If they were another couple down we'd probably be feeling a little more comfortable about things."

Bracewell said the key for his side was to bowl with discipline and create pressure through bowling maidens.

While he was pleased with how his bowling attack had operated for most of the match, he felt the bowlers let themselves down after lunch and allowed Wellington too many easy runs.

Wellington resumed day two on 94 for five and added 46, conceding a first-innings deficit of 35 runs.

Experienced Otago seamer Warren McSkimming picked up the last three wickets and finished with four for 40 from 14.3 overs.

Mat Harvie was arguably the best of the bowlers, taking two for 10 from 11 overs.

Otago's second innings got off to a dreadful start, with captain Craig Cumming spooning a catch to mid-on and Hamish Rutherford nicking out.

Greg Todd and Indian batsman VVS Laxman added 77 for the third wicket to give the innings some substance.

Laxman played some delightful shots in his innings of 44 and Todd anchored the innings with a fighting knock of 73 from 180 deliveries.

Nathan McCullum chipped in with 33.

Otago resumed yesterday at 210 for seven with a lead of 245.

A punishing last-wicket stand of 47 between Harvie and James McMillan pushed the lead to 321.

Harvie scored his highest first-class score with a hard-hit undefeated innings of 37.

He walloped left-arm spinner Luke Woodcock for a massive six which went close to clearing the Otago Daily Times Stand.

"It is really good to see those guys contributing down the order.

They get a lot of satisfaction out of it, I'm sure," Bracewell said.

Otago's fine morning continued, with Neil Wagner and McCullum each picking up a wicket to reduce Wellington 47 to two by lunch.

Matthew Bell got a brilliant delivery from Wagner which nipped back and clipped the top of his off stump, and Josh Brodie was trapped in front when McCullum found a good length and created doubt in the batsman's mind.

Veteran top-order batsman Neal Parlane ignored the game situation and played some positive cricket, whacking nine fours in a 52-ball half-century.

He was quick to work any delivery near his pads into the on side and was particularly brutal on McCullum, pulling the spinner for some glorious boundaries through mid-wicket.

When rain forced the abandonment of play, Parlane was on 53 with BJ Crook yet to score.

A century by Auckland wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins has helped set up a thrilling finish against Northern Districts going into the final day at Whangarei today, NZPA reports.

It was the wicketkeeper's ninth first-class century in 106 matches and helped Auckland post a competitive second-innings total.

At stumps on the third day yesterday, Northern was 113 for three in its second innings, needing another 155 runs for a win with seven wickets in hand.

Hamish Marshall will resume on 43 for Northern Districts today with Bradley Scott, yet to score, at the other end.

Auckland was dismissed for 259 in its second innings yesterday for an overall lead of 268 after resuming on its overnight score of 27 for two.

A battling fifth-wicket stand from Tim Weston and Greg Hay saved competition leader Central Districts from its second batting collapse of the day against Canterbury at Rangiora yesterday.

Chasing Canterbury's mammoth first innings 543 all out, Central resumed yesterday morning on 130 for three but lost its way badly to be all out for 263.

Forced to follow on, Central was wavering at 119 for four before Weston and Hay restored some order and saw it through to stumps at 191 for four.


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