Cricket: Southee makes solid return

Tim Southee continued his fine return to first class cricket with a five-wicket bag today, leaving him set to don the black cap in next month's test series against England.

Southee, New Zealand's best strike bowler, was sorely missed during last month's two-test humbling in South Africa, with an injured thumb keeping him on the sidelines for two months.

But the 24-year-old returned with a bang to the bowling crease against Wellington in Whangarei, though his performances with bat and ball is unlikely to be enough to keep alive Northern Districts' chances of retaining the Plunket Shield.

Southee has the Knights well placed for a fourth-day win but leaders Central Districts are on the verge of victory themselves, which would leave CD and second-placed Otago the only sides still in contention heading into next week's final round of matches.

Whether Southee is involved in the last week of the competition remains to be seen, with the seamer previously indicating he would leave the timing of his return to the national side in the hands of Mike Hesson and his staff.

Southee is unlikely to be rushed back into the set-up given the Black Caps' strong seam stocks, but he has shown this week he is well and truly recovered from the torn thumb ligaments he suffered late last year.

He claimed 4-97 in Wellington's first innings before scoring 83 and being part of an invaluable 106-run partnership with Daryl Mitchell (136) for the seventh wicket. That stand helped ND make 510 and gave the Knights a lead of 87 runs - a lead Southee immediately went to work defending.

He struck in the third over to remove Michael Papps and took three of the first five wickets to fall as Wellington slumped to 146-5. Southee returned to the crease to complete his 10th first class five-wicket haul as Wellington were dismissed for 234, leaving ND to chase 148 tomorrow.

But, barring a dramatic collapse from Central Districts, the outcome of that chase will be irrelevant. After ball had repeatedly triumphed over bat in the first three innings - with scores of 252, 249 and 255 - CD began their chase of 259 with a 145-run opening stand to take firm control against Canterbury.

Once the Wizards were dismissed at tea, leaving New Zealand batsman Dean Brownlie unbeaten on 135, Jeet Raval and Jamie How seized the initiative and raced toward their target at rapid speed.

Both were eventually dismissed - Raval for 59 and How for 81 from just 91 deliveries - but the damage had already been done, and CD will begin tomorrow needing 103 runs with seven wickets in hand.

Victory for the Stags will probably be matched by Otago, leaving the Volts needing to make up a nine-point deficit in the final round with 20 points available.

Otago nightwatchman Nick Beard's epic resistance finally came to a close on 188 today, with his knock helping Otago declare on 569-8 against Auckland. In reply, Auckland reached 202-4 and need a further 146 runs to make Otago bat again.


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