Cricket: Loss not major setback for Otago

Otago's nail-biting last-ball loss to Auckland on Monday has bruised rather than dented its chances of defending its one-day title.

Otago was in third place going into the fifth-round match but despite the loss has maintained its position, with other results going its way.

Central Districts (18) extended its lead with a six-wicket win over Northern Districts.

Northern is in second place with 13 points, one ahead of Otago on 12.

Canterbury leapfrogged Wellington (8) with its 78-run win over the capital-based side and is in fourth place with 11 points.

Auckland opened its account with its three-wicket win over Otago and is in last spot on four points.

With a potential of 25 points still up for grabs, all six teams still remain in contention.

Otago coach Mike Hesson was reasonably content with where his side was placed at the halfway point.

"We've played some really good cricket and some ordinary cricket," Hesson said.

"But we're still in third place, like we were at this time last year."

Last season Otago scraped into the semifinals with five wins and one no-result from 10 matches.

It also needed some help from Auckland, which recovered from 18 for four to chase down Central Districts' total of 254 and eliminate CD from the play-offs.

But once Otago made the semifinal, it dispatched Canterbury by six wickets then overran Auckland's total of 310 in the final, thanks largely to an incredible innings of 170 from Brendon McCullum.

Otago has some injury concerns ahead of its next match against Northern Districts in Whangarei on Sunday.

Medium-pacer Warren McSkimming has returned to Dunedin for treatment on a strained hamstring and will miss the game.

English all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas has injured a foot but Hesson is hopeful he will be fit.

"It is something we'll have to assess over the next couple of days but he seemed to be better today," he said.

Mascarenhas smashed five sixes off former Black Caps strike bowler Daryl Tuffey in the loss to Auckland on Monday, but he was left stranded on 75 as Chris Martin took three wickets in the 49th over to wrap up Otago's innings.

"That was one area where we really let ourselves down," Hesson acknowledged.

"With two overs to go we didn't manage to get Dimitri back on strike and that was poor batting."

Three of Otago's five remaining games in the one-day competition are on home soil.

Otago returns to Dunedin to play Canterbury on January 14 and Auckland on January 17.

Its penultimate round-robin match is against the in-form Central Districts in New Plymouth.

If the competition remains as close as it has been so far, Otago's final match against Wellington in Invercargill could determine whether the defending champion makes the play-offs or not.

The semifinal is scheduled for January 28 with the final on February 1.



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