Cricket: Otago with chance for historic win

Vaughn Johnson
Vaughn Johnson
Quick quiz. Who is the only member of the Otago camp to know what it is like to win the Plunket Shield?

Well, it has been 25 years since the province last won the title, and the memory is a little sketchy now, but Otago coach Vaughn Johnson can recall some of the details.

He played two first-class matches for Otago that summer, including Otago's final Plunket Shield game of the campaign against Wellington at the Basin Reserve.

Otago was actually in fourth-equal place when it started the game but beat Wellington by 146 runs to move into a share of first place with Auckland.

Calculators were needed to separate the sides and Otago was deemed the winner because it had a superior runs-per-wicket differential. Ditch the perm and the bad moustache and fast forward to 2013 and it is almost as close again.

Otago needs to beat Wellington in the final game of its campaign yet again. The game gets under way at the Basin Reserve today and the Volts must pick up an outright to have any chance of winning the tournament.

Central Districts is nursing a crucial nine-point buffer at the top of the competition table and is playing Northern Districts in Nelson. If Central wins, Otago will have to settle for second despite a remarkable run which has resulted in the side dismantling its opposition during the past month.

The Volts have enjoyed an innings and 240-run win against Wellington, and an eight-wicket win and a 10-wicket win against Northern Districts and Auckland respectively. But Central has kept winning, too. While its 17-point buffer has been eroded to nine points, it cannot be surpassed unless Otago wins and it fails to secure an outright.

Regardless of what happens in the next four days, Otago has had a summer to remember. It has already won the twenty/20 title but winning the four-day competition would be special, Johnson said.

''I asked the players in the shed the other day who has won the Plunket Shield in the past and none of them have, so it would be pretty special,'' Johnson said.

''You just don't dream of winning two championships in a season.''

In past seasons, five wins would have been enough for Otago to win the competition but Central has managed to stay in front with three consecutive wins of its own.

''Good luck to them but we are going to Wellington with no fear. We don't care if we lose the game as long as we give ourselves a chance to win the game.

''We go into the game with lots of positive momentum. A lot of our momentum came from the HRV Cup where we played with no fear and played with confidence. Everybody in the team knew if it was not their day, it was their mate's day.''

Otago has made two changes to the side which beat Auckland by 10 wickets. Ian Butler returns from international duty and replaces spinner Mark Craig.

Seamer Jacob Duffy has recovered from a slight muscle strain and comes into the 12 for batsman Iain Robertson.

Given Otago needs to win, it is likely to play an extra bowler and rely on its experienced top-order batsmen Neil Broom and Aaron Redmond to build a good score.

Hamish Rutherford was set to be named in the side but has been called into the Black Caps to replace the injured Martin Guptill.

Darren Broom opened alongside Redmond in Rutherford's absence and has retained his spot.

Otago's strength, though, has been its bowling. Butler is Otago's leading wicket-taker with 36 wickets at an average of 23.52 this season and Sam Wells has been a big improver with 17 at 23.88.

Neil Wagner has missed part of the season while on duty for the Black Caps but has still taken 24 at 25.62.

Spinner Nick Beard bowled tidily in his first four-day game of the summer but it was his efforts with the bat which attracted the headlines. He came in as a night watchman late on day one and was still undefeated at stumps on day two. He was eventually removed for 188.

''We've been aggressive with our bowling attack. You have to get 20 wickets to win a first-class game. So whatever team we've picked, our first priority was to make sure we could take 20 wickets.''

Wellington will be without former Black Caps batsman Jesse Ryder who has not recovered from a groin strain.

Otago v Wellington
Basin Reserve, starts today
Aaron Redmond, Darren Broom, Michael Bracewell, Neil Broom, Sam Wells, Derek de Boorder (captain), Jimmy Neesham, Ian Butler, Neil Wagner, Nick Beard, James McMillan, Jacob Duffy.

Wellington: Stephen Murdoch (captain), Harry Boam, Josh Brodie, Tipene Friday, Mark Gillespie, Scott Kuggeleijn, Michael Papps, Jeetan Patel, Michael Pollard, Luke Ronchi, Malaesaili Tugaga, Luke Woodcock.

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