Firebirds and Knights close in on victories

The Wellington Firebirds are close to giving themselves a Plunket Shield cricket lifeline as they edge towards victory over the Canterbury Wizards at Rangiora.

They enter the fourth and final day of the seventh round fixture tomorrow on 105 without loss in their second innings, 150 runs short of securing just their second victory of the season.

Wellington, who began the round in fifth place and 11 points adrift of competition leaders the Central Stags were well served by both their bowlers and batsmen today after Canterbury resumed their second innings at 108 for four, leading overall by only 23 runs.

Fine innings by Shanan Stewart and Reece Young ensured Canterbury went on to a very respectable 339, with Stewart denied a deserved century when he edged behind off spinner Jeetan Patel on 99 after 231 minutes at the crease.

Young went in the very next over for 79, the victim of another edge to wicketkeeper Joe Austin-Smellie, this time off seamer Grant Elliott, who impressed by taking three for 33 off 16 overs.

Wellington's most penetrative bowler, though, was left-arm quick Andy McKay, who took four for 76 to finish with nine wickets for the match.

Their batsmen then helped ease any nerves as Stephen Murdoch and Cameron Merchant put on an unbroken stand of 105 before bad light forced an early close.

Both made the most of it against an inexperienced attack as Merchant reached 58 and Murdoch 46, between them striking 15 fours and one six.

At Hamilton, the Northern Knights should inflict the Auckland Aces fifth outright defeat tomorrow after again enjoying the better of the contest today.

The visitors ended the third day at Seddon Park on 259 for nine in their second innings, leading overall by only 196 runs.

They began the day disastrously, losing Tim McIntosh for a second ball duck and his opening partner Jeet Raval for seven, and thereafter were forced to take a cautious approach after losing already trailed by 63 runs on the first innings.

Captain Gareth Hopkins was one of the few to display the necessary grit and determination as he tried extricate his team from a precarious position but his defiance ended when he was on 85 as he became one of six leg before wicket decisions in the innings as Trent Boult trapped him in front after 228 minutes of resistance.

Anaru Kitchen also made 46, Brad Cachopa 41 and recalled international Daryl Tuffey 41 not out but Auckland could not produce the required substance to unduly unsettle a Northern attack led by Boult, who took three for 55 to complement the fine work of newcomer James Baker, who claimed three for 50.

Despite losing the entirety of the second day due to rain, Otago's match against Central still promises to produce a result at University Oval in Dunedin.

Otago enter the final day at 113 for three in their second innings, leading overall by just 38 runs after the visitors rode the coat tails of half-centuries to skipper Kruger van Wyk and Tarun Nethula to reach 222 in their first innings.

They resumed this morning at 134 for six, just 14 shy of first innings points, which they duly ticked off before van Wyk was forced to retire hurt on 51 after adding 11 runs to his overnight score.

Nethula refused to be distracted though, progressing from his overnight 23 to 58 before his maiden first-class half-century was ended by Anthony Bullick.

Michael Mason also swung the bat to score 27 to ensure they topped 200, with Otago best served by Ian Butler, with three for 51, and Neil Wagner, three for 75.

Otago were in no rush in their second innings after losing the early wickets of Michael Bracewell and Shaun Haig, and skipper Craig Cumming then reached 49 before being dismissed late in the day.

NZPA

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