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The Otago No 4 batsman came agonisingly close to a second first class century before he was stumped on 94.
But equally, in a game where the next highest score has been 54, he played the decisive innings.
Kelly ensured Otago finished its second innings against Northern Districts with a 316-run lead in its Plunket Shield match at the University of Otago Oval.
Northern will resume this morning on 45 for none, requiring a further 272 runs to win on the final day of play.
Otago was bowled out for 266 early in yesterday’s final session, Kelly’s knock the key effort among a handful of 20s and 30s.
Kelly arrived at the crease late on Sunday, Otago having lost two wickets in its fourth over and been reduced to 15 for two.
Otago had led by 50 after the first innings, although the two wickets swung momentum back Northern’s way.
However, Kelly and Anaru Kitchen showed grit to get the side to stumps without losing another wicket.
That continued yesterday morning, the duo putting on 78 runs for the third wicket.
It ensured Otago was on a far more comfortable 93 for three when Kitchen was caught behind on 39 off the bowling of Brett Hampton.
While Michael Rippon and Max Chu managed 24 and 26 respectively, runs proved hard to come by for the rest of the order.
But Kelly’s ability to hold up one end proved key.
He hit 13 fours and a six, batting for four and a-half hours as he blunted a Northern bowling attack which includes Neil Wagner and Ish Sodhi.
Indeed, Otago contained that duo well and limited them to just one second innings wicket — when Sodhi claimed Rippon driving on the up to Henry Cooper in the covers.
It was James Baker who did the damage. The right-arm opener took five wickets for 55 runs off his 27.3 overs, notably taking the two early wickets yesterday.
While Kelly was stumped just shy of a century, Travis Muller and Jacob Duffy chipped in with 26 and 23 each to get Otago through to 266 when it was bowled out.
That left Northern openers Jeet Raval and Cooper to navigate the final session, which they did without losing a wicket. They grafted out 27 and 15 respectively, scoring 45 off 23 overs.
Notably, Duffy went for just one run off his seven overs.
But keeping all 10 wickets in hand was key for Northern, giving it the chance to chase a win today.